When she arrived at Fallston High School her sophomore year, Amaya Parker said it sometimes felt that her race was all people saw of her.
“You talk really white,” she recalls some saying.
“How do I talk a race?” she wanted to know.
Parker, now 18 and a senior, says she’s proud to be a minority student at Fallston — she’s black and Latina — and knows that she’s so much more than that. “I’m also a good athlete,” she said. “I’m a pretty good singer.”
On Thursday, Fallston art teacher Andrea Sauer and a group of students unveiled a mural they hope will not only spruce things up around the school, but expand the minds of students when it comes to accepting, understanding and befriending those who are different than themselves.
In bold pinks, blues and oranges, the 10-foot by 11-foot artwork depicts people including a woman wearing a headscarf, a man draped in a rainbow flag and another wearing a yarmulke. Schools of koi fish seem to travel from left to right, symbolizing the students’ journey through their four years of high school.
“We all start out as little guppies,” says 17-year-old Cydney Walton, who worked on the mural along with about 100 fellow students from Sauer’s art classes.
School officials say the mural was inspired by the concept “Different Perspectives Make Us Grow,” an idea that grew from discussions between the students. They brainstormed ideas for things to include — Walton lobbied hard for the fish — and local artist Maura Dwyer designed the mural with their feedback.
A grant from the organization, Young Audiences, helped finance the project. Students worked in teams over the course of eight days.
“They really blew me away with their talent,” Dwyer said of the students.
She said that watching the teenagers collaborate, she saw a subtle shift. Minority students spoke a little louder. Within the atmosphere of the art room, they began to talk more openly about times they felt discriminated against or judged on their appearances, Dwyer said.
That interaction, discussion and collaboration were important elements of the project.
“I think we’re trying to make Fallston a place that’s more inclusive,” Sauer said.
Previous projects undertaken by art students included a mosaic and another mural, Sauer said.
Fallston High School opened in 1977, and features stony brown walls. The new mural, positioned by the school’s main entrance, will be the first thing visitors see when they walk in the building.
School officials said the mural is partly painted with ultraviolet paint. Black lights will be installed so that it will glow in the dark.
For students, the project was a chance to express their view of a multicultural world. But working with others on such a big project presented challenges.
A perfectionist by nature, Devin Woods, 16, says she was terrified to leave her panel for the night, worried something might happen to it or that it might not come together as planned.
In the end, some of the students’ panels didn’t line up exactly perfectly. Woods’ eye gravitates toward the flaws.
But to Parker, it’s beautiful.