When art teacher Craig Llewellyn came from Baltimore County to Edgewood High School three years ago, he expected disengaged, rowdy students, but he was surprised by what he saw: empty hallways.
"The halls were empty because everyone was in class," Llewellyn said.
It would not be the last time the school would defy the usual Edgewood stereotypes of an underachieving, struggling community, he said.
"From perception to reality, it blew my mind," he explained about the school. "The academic rigor of the classes is through the roof here... Those facts, I just think, need to be shouted from the mountaintops."
Llewellyn has helped put the real faces of Edgewood – both the school and the neighborhood – on display for the world to see.
A handful of students, most of them recent graduates, spent Tuesday morning pasting huge, black-and-white self-portraits along a concrete wall at Willoughby Beach and Edgewood roads.
"This project was like, faces in your face. This is Edgewood," Kelly Christ, a dance teacher who helped with the project, explained.
"People see the faces of Edgewood and it's a misconception about this neighborhood, this community, but it doesn't exist in the school," she continued. "We need to tell the media that this is not who we are, this is not true."
The mural idea is part of the international Inside Out project, a "large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work," according to its website.
The project's creator, JR, won the 2011 TED prize. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences LLC is best known for TED Talks, a popular series about innovative ideas whose videos have frequently gone viral.
More than 120,000 people around the world have taken part in the portrait-producing Inside Out project, the website says.
For Edgewood, the project began with 300 portraits of students, teachers and community members that Llewellyn coordinated as a photography project. They are still taped along an entire wall on the second floor.
After Llewellyn sent the photos to the Inside Out project to be processed, he was not sure what to expect when he got the large posters back during the summer.
He was pleasantly surprised that 10 students, most of them recent graduates, took time to come out and help attach the posters, using wheat paste.
The project is also part of a bigger vision for Edgewood, Llewellyn explained along with fellow teachers Kelly Christ and technology teacher Steve Ortega.
Encouraged by Principal Larissa Santos, the school developed its "This Is Edgewood" mission statement, full of pride and confidence about being "a GREAT Harford County school."
With a brand-new school building, that confidence seems to be taking off with projects like the public mural.
Llewellyn noted the school produced a "lipdub" video celebrating life at Edgewood last year. It had been viewed more than 17,000 times on YouTube, as of Thursday.
(A lipdub is a music video that features lip syncing with audio dubbing.)
The video can be found under YouTube.com/user/TheEdgewoodRAMS.