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Liberty High students decorate school with uplifting messages

Where once the hallway leading to the boys' locker room at Liberty High School, in Eldersburg, was the same off-white, yellowy-beige as much of the rest of the school, there's now a mural of the school's mascot — a lion — surrounding a water fountain, complemented with uplifting words like "power," "respect," and "hustle" spray-painted graffiti-style along all the doors.

The mural was the idea of physical education teacher Joe Reiter, who reached out to two freshmen girls who he thought had the talent to pull off something big last school year.

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Reiter said he remembers visiting Francis Scott Key High School, in Uniontown, a few years ago and being impressed with a large mural in the gym featuring an eagle, the school's mascot. He wanted something with that kind of impact, both for Liberty High School's home teams and visiting teams to their school.

"One of the things I really wanted to promote was school spirit again, showing pride in our school, showing pride in our teams and sportsmanship — things along those lines to get them pumped up when they come to practice and when they come to games," Reiter said. "And when the visiting teams come, they may say 'wow, this is pretty cool.' "

Reiter said he's often seen team mottos such as "be your best" and "try your hardest" written in block letters in many sports venues, but said he thinks that such commonly used phrases can fade into the background when portrayed in typical ways because people are so used to seeing them. His idea to make the Liberty High School mural stick out was to use graffiti or tagger-style art, he said. He started asking around the school to see if anyone knew of a student who could do graffiti art, and that's how he found his two artists.

Caprina Smith, 15, and Caroline Maerten, 16, both sophomores, had taken an art class in graffiti-style painting during the summer of 2013 with Vivian Davis, of Tutoring Art in Sykesville. After Reiter told them about his idea, they showed him some designs for the way they would like to depict the lion and write out the words, and he decided to move forward with the project.

Besides having experience with graffiti-style art, the girls were a great fit for the project because of their active involvement in the school's National Art Honor Society, having taken part in activities such as face-painting at school sporting events and serving as ambassadors from Liberty High School's art program, through which they served as mentors to eighth graders at Oklahoma Road Middle School as part of the middle school's Fine Arts Day.

"They're sort of just really involved and they want to get art into their community any chance they get," said art teacher Lauren Latane-Valis, adviser of Liberty's National Art Honor Society. "They're really active in our club and their art is on display a lot."

Both girls said it was quite an exciting proposal to design and paint the area by the locker room, and they were flattered to be offered the opportunity.

"We had a lot of freedom to design the entire room," Smith said. "But because it's a school, everything had to be neat and legible. [Reiter] wanted to see all the words [clearly]."

Before they pulled out the spray-paint cans, there was a lot of planning, Maerton said. They took measurements, made drawings, then met with a representative from the Varsity Club to purchase all of their supplies, which included about 20 cans of spray paint.

The actual painting took about two weeks during the end of July and early August, with the girls starting at 9 a.m. and going until 3 or 4 p.m. each day, Maerton said.

"The girls gave up a big chunk of their summer," Latane-Valis said.

Maerton said they thought they would see some students come by while they were working on it, but no one ever did. The school staff had scheduled their painting time to take place before fall sports practices would begin.

Reiter said he lives in Towson and didn't get to see the finished project in person until it was time to report back for teacher duties.

"I was like, 'wow, this is awesome,' " Reiter said. "They did a great job and they're truly talented."

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And when the students came back and their peers finally had a chance to see it, it was great to hear such positive reactions, Smith said.

"It totally put a smile on my face, I was glad to see that people liked it and were talking about it," she said. "It was cool."

Reiter immediately asked Maerton and Smith if they would come back next summer and do a mural for the girls' locker room as well. Planning for that project is expected to start in the spring.

The school's athletic director, Ed DeVincent, also asked if they would take on an immediate project painting a mural on the softball dugouts.

"The murals are awesome," DeVincent wrote in an email about the boys' locker room painting. "It has an uplifting feel when you go into the locker room. There are terms on the wall that we want all of our kids to follow such as 'pride,' 'teamwork,' 'hard work,' 'sportsmanship.' "

That dugout project started in October, Smith said, and they are working with a handful of other art students, hoping to get it done before it gets too cold.

One dugout mural will feature five softball players standing in different positions, Maerton said, though the portraits will not depict actual players or past players from the school. The other side's dugout will have a lion and the years of all the softball championships the school has won painted on it.

The girls said the boys' locker room project was a great opportunity, and it's great to know their work has contributed to making their school a better place.

"I feel very honored, and it's definitely a privilege," Maerton said.

Smith agreed.

"It's been an honor, and it's great chance to bring school spirit to the school and add color to our white walls," Smith said. "And Caroline and I really enjoy painting and we work great together, so we're glad we're able to do this."

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