Having been in the heart of Bel Air for more than 80 years, Bel Air Elementary School decided to get a "Heart of Harford" of its very own.

On Tuesday morning, students, administrators, parents and local officials celebrated as they unveiled their new public art piece, full of "Bulldog pride," on Lee Street.

Bel Air Elementary is the first school to join the Hearts of Harford public art series, Principal Dyann Mack said.

The painted fiberglass sculpture is the 12th heart in the series. The Bel Air Downtown Alliance, which conceived the program, is planning to have just two more, Downtown Alliance Director Christine McPherson said.

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Mack, who is in her fourth year leading BAES, decided to create a committee to design the heart last year, after the school chose "Heart of Bel Air" as its annual theme.

"It's just a wonderful place to be," Mack said about the town.

The red-and-brown heart features the school's bulldog mascot on one side with a heart-shaped dog tag that reads "PTA," because "we have a very strong PTA, so we wanted to include them," Mack explained.

The heart includes the school's guiding motto of "Believe, Achieve, Empower, Succeed," as well as the slogan "Everybody Counts," a mantra of a former principal that is displayed on a plaque in the school, Mack said.

A heart-shaped paw showcases the school's subject areas in a stained-glass design, because students wanted to represent the different subjects and the building has a stained-glass front window, Mack said.

The heart also includes grass on the bottom because "a lot of our kids are walkers," she noted. The painting incorporates Harford County Public Schools' logo, a growing leaf, in one of the blades of grass.

Besides the unveiling ceremony Tuesday morning, the school is also hosting an "Open Heart" event at 6 p.m. for parents to see the sculpture and take their own photos, which will be displayed in the school.

"We want us all to own the heart," Mack said, adding the piece celebrates the school's connection to its community. The heart, which was partly funded by the PTA, cost $1,800 and was painted by Keri MacKinnon, a teacher at C. Milton Wright High School.

"We are a school that sits right in the Town of Bel Air, and I believe in this community, and I believe in the work that we are doing. We have the future doctors and lawyers and so on," Mack said.

"I went through Harford County schools and I am still here. We have generations of families here," she added.

Mack said the school dates itself to 1924 and was re-built on its present site in 1984.

"My hope is that when the kids are here, it increases their sense of pride, that it brings some recognition to Bel Air Elementary," she said.

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