By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
Mosey down the main hallway at Lone Star High School West, at TJJD’s Ron Jackson campus, and you’ll be stopped by a splash of colors that dance across the otherwise white-painted cinderblock walls.
Get closer and you’ll see drawings of Disney princesses, Sponge Bob, the Lion King, hearts, confetti and caps and gowns in joyful explosion of bright pinks, purples, blues, and reds. The colors virtually leap from the concrete and the words beckon too as you pause to appreciate these compact, lively artworks.
“Your talent is who you are. You should be proud of it,” reads one message in scrolly letters. It’s attributed to and features a depiction of Tinkerbell, arms raised and ready to fly away on purple wings.
Each brick features a different picture, with inspirational messages from the graduate who made it as they passed through Lone Star HS West. The students who created this collective mosaic have indeed flown onward. They finished their high school education here at Lone Star HS West and won the privilege of stamping one cinder block space with their thoughts and designs, a legacy for them and an invitation to future students.
“It started it in 2019 when I became principal that spring,” said Principal Helen Spearman. “We had been talking at our campus about how to get more things on the walls for the kids, murals maybe. We wanted something that would recognize our graduates better, because they’re not all here to walk at graduation.”
It’s the nature of juvenile corrections that youth may be discharged (a good thing!) before the bi-annual graduation ceremony takes place.
Spearman and the staff wanted something meaningful for those students who did so often graduate with little fanfare, and they wanted that something to permanently honor the students’ accomplishments -- not have to be rolled up and discarded later.
“I wanted to have a way for the kids to leave their positive mark on the place and have a spot to brag about their accomplishments to the other kids,” said Spearman, who returned to her hometown of Brownwood in 2012 to teach at LSHSW after teaching English in Waco at The AJ Moore Academy.
And so began “The Graduation Wall,” an incentive, reward and beautification project rolled into one.
Now, four years into the project, Spearman says the youth don’t let anyone forget when they’re in the queue for the next brick. It’s become almost as important as the cap and gown photos that the school takes so the students have keepsakes.
“That’s one of the first things they ask when they get their GED or diploma, they’ll ask, can I paint my brick now?”
“We give them a sheet of paper so they can sketch out what they’re going to do to make sure nothing inappropriate,” Spearman said. “. . . We have learned some shortcuts to help them get their design on the brick by shading it with pencil and pressing the back onto the brick.”
Each student gets some time to design their contribution and then one full day out of class to render it on the wall.
“It’s a fun thing. They get attention while they’re out there working on it,” Spearman said.
The results have been nothing short of wonderful. Spearman pointed to the work of their latest graduate, who depicted the cartoon characters Rick and Morty. The artwork is amusing, with Rick yanking Mort’s eyes open. But the message is a solid, positive, even profound one: “Keep your eyes open so you can move ahead with your goals.”