Tri-County Educational Center (TCEC) was an alternative school for Metro Detroit, serving young people who have either dropped out or been expelled from other school districts. The school closed in 2015. In the last year of TCEC, People In Education worked with classroom teachers Adelaide Fabiilli and Brooke Leiberman and 9th through 12th grade graphic design students to create a “data mural”, which used graphic design, student-led research, and mosaic art to explore the obstacles that prevent students from graduating.

Students at Tri County Educational Center working on Data Mural. 2015.

Students at Tri County Educational Center working on Data Mural. 2015.

To answer the question "How do schools measure success?," we conducted research with a focus on the history and rationale for standardized testing. We also interviewed TCEC principal, Mindy Nathan, about challenges of defining and measuring “success” as an alternative school, which recognizes many other essential capacities for their students’ success beyond the traditional measures of standardized test scores.

Once we gathered our research as a class we created an alternative set of standards of success. These class standards were turned into a survey, which students then circulated throughout TCEC, asking their peers to rank the standards in order of importance. 

The overwhelming response they found was that “Money” was the most important standard for success according to students. This was a shock and a disappointment to the class. We spent the next week discussing what their survey results meant to them and what it would mean for the data mural.

We came to the conclusion that, even though our society as a whole may value money as the ultimate indicator of success, the purpose of the graphic design class project should be to communicate messages about the value of knowledge – in all of its different forms – as a standard of success.


Each student chose a different type of knowledge to focus on and developed an icon to represent it. The artist-in-residence worked with the students to synthesize their icons into a mural concept. He contacted a local mosaic artist to consult the class on the creation of a mosaic data mural. The class spent the following three weeks cutting and gluing glass.

The graphic design students unveiled the final mural to the student body two weeks before the end of the school year, explaining both the process and the purpose behind it.