Scout honors wildlife with art project

Ryan stands in the mural hallway. Photo courtesy of Ryan.

Devon Helmer, Managing Editor

This previously ran in our September 2021 print issue.

Recent years have brought plenty of unprecedented changes to the halls of Emmaus High School; the long-awaited aquarium element to the top floor is one of them. 

The recently installed aquatic life mural, located in the English hall breezeway, is the product of an Eagle Scout project by senior Zach Ryan. The project sources its roots to 2019, when Ryan first began acquiring signatures to begin his work. 

The scene, once given approval and work was physically started, took just over five months to complete. Ryan and his helpers, made up of EHS students and community members, finished the project in just nine work sessions, each lasting four to five hours in length. 

The beauty this installation has added to the school has been tremendously appreciated by the EHS community as students have re-entered the hallways in recent weeks. Among its biggest fans: Emmaus High School Principal Dr. Kate Kieres. 

“It takes an area that really didn’t appear to have much of a purpose or personality and turns it into something that is completely unrecognizable,” Kieres said. 

At first glance, the mural may appear to be purely decorative; but, Ryan adds a deeper meaning to his work. In addition to highlighting the biodiversity of the Lehigh Valley on the walls of the school, he was able to connect his task to a prevalent issue in our schools: the mental health of teenagers.

“Something I included in my proposal for my project was nature-deficit disorder within schools: depression is really common and affects our age group,” Ryan said. “A lot of medical journals over the past couple of years have started putting more articles out about it, specifically how they believe that the inclusion of more nature within schools can have a positive effect on students’ mental health.”

In addition to its more serious purposes, Ryan’s work has a humorous message to it. While this implementation does not include any actual fins or flippers, it pays homage to the well-known joke often told to the incoming freshman of Emmaus High School: the existence of an aquarium on a non-existent fifth floor. 

“The reason I did the project was to get my Eagle Scout rank, but the concept of how I got to doing a fish tank was simply because of the running joke at our school,” Ryan said. “I thought it was pretty funny, everyone hears it when they come to Emmaus.”  

With the installation of his Eagle Scout project, Ryan leaves his mark on the halls of EHS for years to come.  

Kieres said these types of projects are important to the school community.

“Things like this give people an anchor and a connection to our school; a sense of belonging,” Kieres said.
“Zach is leaving a piece of himself with us,” she said. “I think it adds to the sense of the school being a part of a community and sends a message to students who are here: each in their own way they, too, can leave a legacy.”