Morley student connects global community through flag mural

Ethan’s love of geography has made Room 107 a popular place for everyone at Morley Elementary School to visit this semester.
The second-grade student designed and installed a large mural of world flags on a classroom wall for all to see. The project features handcrafted paper flags from 168 countries with intricate emblems and details.
Ethan said he is glad he decided to make the mural. He wanted to share his passion for social studies with all of his classmates and friends.
“I just really like geography and all of the flags,” Ethan said. “I thought it would be cool to make all of them and put them up on a wall.”
Tara Zuspan, the school’s gifted curriculum facilitator, said Ethan’s project has connected Morley students from all backgrounds and grade levels. Room 107 includes several large windows that open up to the school’s main hallway, which have made the mural attractive to look at.
“Many students at Morley who are from other countries or have family ties to other countries have come to Ethan to inquire about the flags and learn more about them,” Zuspan said. “Unknowingly, he has brought many people together within our community.”
Second-grade teacher Kate Athey said Ethan’s generous attitude has made a major difference at Morley. She said he has passed along information to his classmates in a kind and caring way.
“Ethan does a really good job of sharing his knowledge with others without making them feel less than,” Athey said. “He truly is the nicest kid. He’s always looking to build others up and make them feel good. That’s something that’s really neat.”
Ethan’s mother Lisa said the spark for her son’s love of geography came when the family watched the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in 2021. He became fascinated with the people, flags and cultures that represented each country.
“As he watched the athletes walk through the stadium, each group carried their nation’s flag and the country name was listed on the TV screen,” she said. “I don’t think he knew there were so many countries in the world. He asked questions about the countries and their flags, so we pulled out our atlas. He just poured over the pages.”
Ethan remained interested after the Olympics ended. He learned Oman is the only nation that starts with the letter O, India has the largest population (1.428 billion) and 98.3 percent of Bhutan is covered with mountains.
Ethan took the next step on his geography journey by working on the mural. He relied on a Lincoln Public Schools computer application to find high-resolution displays of each flag, and he used colorful markers to draw precise images.
Athey, Zuspan and Ethan’s reading mentor Mevi Hova watched in awe as he built the mural flag by flag. Afghanistan, Albania and Algeria are in the top-lefthand corner, and Zambia and Zimbabwe are featured on the opposite end.
Ethan has also kept the wall updated and accurate. He took down the flag of Kyrgyzstan when he learned in late November that the country’s parliament had voted to change its design. His Kyrgyzstan flag now features a question mark on a plain background.
“It was amazing to see how focused he was with this,” Hova said. “It took a lot of time and effort, and most kids his age would probably spend a little bit of time on it and then move on to something else. He didn’t do that. He would come in and work on it continuously, which was really impressive to see.”
Ethan has also been willing to share the project’s spotlight. Fifth-grade student Turuok is from South Sudan and has known Ethan for several years through Morley’s “flock friend” mentoring program. Ethan enthusiastically agreed when Turuok asked if he could create a flag of his home country for the wall.
Rahil, whose family is from Afghanistan, became excited when he saw his classmate and friend make the mural. Rahil researched and drew past versions of Afghanistan’s flag. He then used string to link the older flags with the current pattern on the wall.
“When my friend Ethan made the Afghanistan flag, I learned that it had changed several times in its history like the American flag, so I wanted to help design the older flags,” Rahil said. “It’s been really fun to look at all of the flags and learn about the different cultures. He’s done a really great job with this.”
“Ethan is such a humble and great kid,” Zuspan said. “He truly believes that this isn’t just his project. He wants this to be a project the whole school can contribute to. I think it’s going to be neat to see where it goes from here.”
Ethan would one day like to visit the Republic of Maldives, where “the white sand is right next to the bluest water.” One place closer to home on his travel list is Ethan, S.D., a small city 13 miles south of Mitchell.
“I think it would be fun to go to a town that has the same name,” Ethan said with a smile.
Zuspan said she feels the wall of world flags will help other Morley students pursue their own educational goals.
“I’m so proud of what Ethan has done,” Zuspan said. “He’s doing so many good things for other people.”
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Published: December 20, 2023, Updated: December 20, 2023

Ethan smiles in a Morley Elementary School classroom in front of a portion of his world flag mural. The second-grade student created 168 handcrafted flags for the project. Morley teachers and students said Ethan has connected many people at school with his work.