Chelmsford High School Door Project

CHS’s ‘Door Project’ Brightens Hallways, Connects Students and Educators

Door Project reflects personalities of CHS educators

CHELMSFORD, MA (Jan. 31, 2022) – Michael Khela was ecstatic to return to in-person learning at Chelmsford High School in early April of 2021, his junior year. As he roamed the hallways from class to class, however, it seemed a bit dark and drab, a feeling from which every student was trying to break free.

These were the same hallways he had roamed pre-pandemic, but after finally returning to school, Mr. Khela couldn’t shake the feeling that they needed…something.

“Transitioning from my colorful room to the drab corridors, the most noticeable features when walking through the hallway became the blank maroon doors instead of the students piling in,” said Mr. Khela, one of the Students of the Month for Hawthorne House. “It became the foundation for the inspiration to start the door painting project.”

It was shortly after that Mr. Khela, along with his senior classmates Jennie Huynh, Mahi Chava, and Larry Yang, floated the idea to administrators and custodial staff about painting murals on each classroom door – even better, murals that reflected the personalities of CHS educators. To date, they have completed six doors, with five more in progress, and a wall mural in the Hawthorne House offices.

The first classroom door completed belonged to English teacher Mr. Ian Van Blarcom, a mural depicting schools of fish swimming in a body of water beneath a mountain range. Above it, a quote from poet Oscar Wilde: ‘I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning. And took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.’

Mr. Van Blarcom was instrumental in getting The Door Project started.

“It would provide artistic students an opportunity to showcase their skills and creativity in a constructive and fun manner and it would add some color and personality to the deluge of maroon that adorns our hallways,” Mr. Van Blarcom said. “It’s one of the school colors, but at times it can be omnipresent.”

It created a ripple effect. Soon after, Mr. Khela and company painted the door of Chemistry teacher Ms. Debra Collins, which shows the character Edna Mode of the film, “The Incredibles” – Ms. Collins doppelganger, according to the students – touting, ‘Luck favors the prepared, darling.’

“When Michael first approached me, I was skeptical about the artwork and wondered if they had permission to do it,” Ms. Collins said. “We did a little brainstorming, and they came up with Edna Mode. Students have been calling me that for a while. The door looks great, and I do feel it strengthens the connection between students and teachers.”

Perhaps the students most proud work is that of English teacher Mr. Michael Shea: Superman, sketched and painted by Ms. Huynh, based on, according to the students, Mr. Shea’s eccentric personality. Above Ms. Huynh’s depiction of the superhero is a fitting quote from Mr. Shea reading, ‘You are much stronger than you think you are.’

Teachers are always asked to provide a quote. “With an eccentric person like Mr. Shea, it’s great to show his personality,” Mr. Chava said.

The door of Social Studies teacher Ms. Julie Durkin declares, ‘Throw kindness around like confetti,’ the words surrounded with colorful spheres. The quote on the door of mathematics teacher Katherine Doulamis reads, ‘Mathematics empowers us to reach great heights,’ above a Peanuts characters skit.

With each mural offering a glimpse of a teacher’s personality, The Door Project has enhanced the connection from teacher to student. “I love that more doors are being completed and that teachers get a vote in how they’re being designed,” said Mr. Van Blarcom. “We have some very driven, talented, and insightful students at CHS, and I love that this oft overlooked section of artists have the opportunity to display their creativity in such a unique fashion.”

Mr. Yang said it started more as a friend group. “It’s kind of become a club,” he added.

A mission might be more appropriate. What began as a foursome has grown to more than 20 students, which is a good thing. Mr. Khela has a spreadsheet listing all the teachers who have classroom doors to be painted (there are many).

As The Door Project grew, so did its needs: brushes, tarps, tape, pens, and acrylic fire grade paint in every color possible. “At the start, we used what we could,” said Mr. Yang. “Then we came up with the idea of getting sponsorships and funding.”

Lowe’s of Lowell donated $200 of paint, tarps, mixes, and other supplies, as did ColorWorks of Chelmsford. Van Gogh’s Gear in Chelmsford provided specialty paints such as gold, silver, and other metallic colors.

Though he sketches, Mr. Khela is quick to admit he’s not an artist – he credits Ms. Huynh and the others for that designation. “We all kind of do it all together but we look to Jennie as the leader,” he noted. “Jennie is the artist, tells us how to paint, what to paint. She taught me brush strokes.”

Painting days are usually Thursdays and Fridays after school. Every mural begins with a discussion with the classroom teacher, firstly if they are willing to participate (no teacher has refused). A spirited chat about the concept follows which includes a deadline. Each mural is sketched in white pen before painting. At the end, each student signs their name on the door in black pen.

None of the four students plan to pursue art in college or as a career, which, considering the quality and attention to detail of each mural, might be hard to believe. Though each has yet to choose a college, Mr. Khela plans to pursue chemistry with a concentration in neurology while Ms. Huynh will study biomedical engineering. Mr. Chava expects to major in data science and mathematics and Mr. Yang biochemistry with hopes of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

As they brighten the CHS hallways with their murals, surely they will do the same in their next phase and beyond.

“I just think it’s a tremendous addition to the hallways and a marvelous, student-driven project,” Mr. Van Blarcom said. “Michael and Jennie and the whole crew are to be commended for certain. The school looks a lot brighter, more colorful and all of the variety definitely adds character where there wasn’t a great deal before.”

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About Chelmsford Public Schools

The Chelmsford Public School District provides all students with multiple pathways to optimize their own potential for academic excellence, leadership, and social and emotional wellness. The mission of the Chelmsford Public Schools is to educate, engage, prepare, and empower well-rounded and knowledgeable learners to PERSEVERE through challenges, demonstrate RESPECT and INTEGRITY in their words and actions, are DEDICATED to their community, and display EMPATHY as global citizens while discovering and pursuing their full potential.  This PRIDE-driven culture enables all members of the school community to support the growth and development of students.  For more information, please visit