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.
Llewellyn's photo students from the Class of 2013 said projects like that have even made other people jealous of Edgewood.
Summer Howard said she knows people at other schools who wish they had gone to Edgewood.
"They all think Edgewood is really awesome now," she said. "They think we are this awesome school that does awesome things."
Matt Thomas noted his classmates spent their first year of high school in the old building, which had more negative associations.
The mural project "is a lot more positive view," he said.
Nick Huppman said a lot of people have posted the portraits on Facebook, and Summer said some residents and parents have commented on the portraits as they drive by.
"We are a wonderful community and more people should realize that," Summer said. "It's a great way to express ourselves through art."
Llewellyn said the different faces, which include seniors in their caps and gowns or making grotesque and silly faces, make fun of the Edgewood stereotypes.
As Christ explained: "When you put a face on it, you can no longer say, 'Oh, that's Edgewood, that's Route 40.'"
Christ also said the project shows the collaboration that goes on at the school.
"This school is blowing up when it comes to the arts, as far as how distinguished our photography program is, our dance program, our theatre arts program," she said.
Patricia Nelson, who owns Creative Journeys Child Care right behind the mural, was impressed when she walked around her business to check out the finished work on Tuesday.
"It was awesome," she exclaimed, adding she had five children go through Edgewood High.
"It's nice to get positive attention," Nelson said about the mural. "That is positive attention, because with Edgewood High School, it's always negative."
With the help of social media and community outreach, Llewellyn said there is no stopping Edgewood.
"That is why a project like the Inside Out project makes so much sense for us, because we are turning the walls of the school inside out," he said. "We are imposing what the school's reputation actually is."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun