Student artists shine

​No rock stars, no NFL divas, and certainly no Kardashians.

The Diversity and Morality Murals at Patriot High depict inspirational figures – role models whose work has improved the world for others.  

When some students ask to paint celebrities, "I tell them, 'No, it needs to be less superficial,' " said Dr. DeWayne Mason, art teacher and softball coach at Patriot High. 

​The result?  Student art that uplifts and beautifies much of the campus.  The school displays about 30 large murals, along with hundreds of smaller paintings created by students over the years.  This summer alone, 22 teens completed paintings for the murals project; icons they depicted include Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison and Mahatma Ghandi. 

Dr. Mason and his pupils have built the project for nearly a decade, with Patriot students routinely winning top regional awards – from the Press Enterprise and city of Riverside – for artistic excellence.  This summer, the program earned another honor: the California Voya Unsung Heroes Award, conferred on just two innovative teachers per state nationwide. 

The award, which includes a $2,000 prize, is a boon to a program fueled by donations.  The program's largest benefactors, Dave and Justine Locko, help fund operations, student scholarships and a Wall of Fame at Patriot named for their son, Blake – a gifted artist who died in a car accident several years ago.

​Students yearn to see their work on that wall, Dr. Mason said.  "They ask me, 'What do I have to do to get on the Locko Wall of Fame?' "  The answer is: Earn it. 

The teens, who use acrylic paints on Masonite boards, are guided through the process of improving their craft.  "Great art takes time," said Dr. Mason.  "I tell them, 'Here are 3 to 4 things you can do to make this a better painting.'  It's a coaching process, giving them constructive feedback." 

That feedback covers a broad swath: proportion, emphasis, color, space, movement, texture, variety, and much more.  Patriot's class in art fundamentals, which also covers art history, creative purpose and bases for critiquing art, enrolls more than 400 students a year.

In the end, any work that fails to earn a B+ or better in Dr. Mason's class is painted over.  Those that make the cut are framed and displayed, with help from a corps of volunteer former students whom Dr. Mason credits as indispensable to building the program: Ricardo Baez, Cory Garcia, Layne Harris, Moises Madrid, Antonio Madrid, Shawn Obal, Christian Olmos, Omar Paredes and Mauricio Reyes. 

Through the coursework, students learn technique, tenacity and pride in good work.  But when the teens ask to keep their favorite paintings, Dr. Mason says no, the art is for the public.  "It teaches the kids to do something that gives back to their school and their community," he said.

The lesson is service above self: no rock stars, no NFL divas, and certainly no Kardashians.