By Emily Stellakis, Editor-in-Chief (‘20)

After months of planning and hard work, the Driver’s Education classes of Indian Hills revealed their “Future Safe Drivers” mural on Tuesday, January 14, bringing both a splash of color and a positive message to the 400-wing hallway. This mural, consisting of collaged student drawings, hopes to enforce driver safety and discourage detrimental activities like drunk driving and texting while driving. The mural was created after the sophomore class participated in the “Driver’s Education through Art” course through the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, a foundation that aims to spread awareness of the importance of traffic safety in honor of New Jersey native Nikhil Badlani, who died at 11 years old due to a distracted driver running through a stop sign

The mission of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation is to raise traffic safety awareness and to nurture the academic and musical talent in our children. The Foundation has been focused on teen driving safety through an immersive exercise of creating traffic safety murals,” said President of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, Sangeeta Badlani. 

Badlani held an assembly on October 4 during which she shared her experience and stressed the importance of traffic safety. She covered topics like distractions, drinking and driving, staying alert, planning ahead, traffic laws, and the graduated driver’s license; the following week, all 246 sophomores enrolled in Driver’s Education were asked to collaborate on a sketch representing one of these six topics. The mural was brought to life much in part by artist Cindy Klien, who designed the layout of the student sketches and outlined them on the panels for students to then fill in with tissue paper. On Friday, October 25, students began gluing their tissue paper to the designs on the plexiglass mural panels, and Driver’s Education teacher Mrs. Fackleman, who played a pivotal role in the creation of the mural, remarked that “It was exciting to see how it changed after each period as more color was added to the mural.”

The entire sophomore class played a role in designing the mural, which is composed of individual images and phrases, such as “Plan Ahead” and “Save a Life Today, Put Your Phone Away”. The images themselves are made of glued tissue paper which was pasted onto three separate panels; this unconventional and unique approach to muralism was an effective way to allow all students, regardless of artistic talent, to contribute to the final product. 

“The mural functions as a means for the students to express their observations of the driving behavior of the drivers and the danger we put ourselves each day when we are on the road. The murals are not just an aesthetic improvement to the school hallways, but also a constant reminder to the young drivers to drive safely. We want people to talk about this public health crisis and the mural is an effective tool to start the dialogue,” remarked Sangeeta Badlani. 

While driving safety is certainly very important for all drivers, the message stressed by the Nikhil Badlani is especially important for new teenage drivers, making this mural and the theme behind it a well-needed addition to Indian Hills hallway. It is vital for new drivers to understand the importance of traffic safety and the many consequences that can result from distracted driving.

“It is my hope that [the mural] serves as a reminder for all student/adult drivers in the building to do everything in their power on a daily basis to ensure a safe drive each and every time they get in a car,” said Mrs. Fackleman.

Badlani encourages all students to take part in the 10th Annual STOP For Nikhil 5K Run/3K Walk on September 13th at West Orange High School, the only race in NJ that works to traffic safety awareness.