How does it feel to expect a $2,000 grant for a student arts program that runs on a shoestring, only to be handed a $7,000 check instead?
"You feel blessed and humbled, like 'Oh my goodness, really?' said Dr. DeWayne Mason, art teacher at Patriot High. "But then you also swell with pride at the fact that they chose your program for the honor."
Dr. Mason last week collected third place – from more than 1,300 entries – in the Voya Unsung Heroes awards competition. The annual contest honors K-12 educators nationwide whose innovative work inspires their students. This summer, Dr. Mason learned he would receive a $2,000 prize for excellence. Voya then revealed the additional award on Friday, at a lunchtime presentation at Patriot.
The Top 3 finish was unanticipated, Dr. Mason said. "Think about it – out of 1,300? I know statistics," he quipped.
He also knows the art of teaching. The grant will expand Patriot's Diversity and Morality Murals program, which imparts both the craft of painting and the value of service. Each student can choose an icon to portray – not a diva celebrity, but a hero who has improved the world for others. Hot off the easels this fall are depictions of Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Abraham Lincoln, MLK, and Muhammad Ali.
The effect of the program is striking: About 30 large murals and hundreds of paintings beautify the school thanks to student work over the past decade. Similar displays might be in store at Rubidoux High, Jurupa Middle and Mission Middle as the heroes-in-art concept extends to those campuses, thanks to the Voya grant.
"Thankfulness is one of the emotions I feel," Dr. Mason said, "because it wouldn't have happened without the TAs, the kids, the school, and the administrators who have supported the program."
Cristian Olmos, a 2010 Patriot graduate who still helps Dr. Mason build frames to display student paintings, said his mentor helped him grow, work hard and flourish: "He made me want to follow in his footsteps and become an art teacher as well."
Dr. Mason lauded his entire group of alumni TAs, including Omar Paredes, who has built more painting frames than anyone at Patriot.
Indeed, the longtime instructor cited the journey of his program – patiently building success over time – as an example for students. "To me it epitomizes what Patriot stands for: excellence in learning and character, teamwork, commitment to community service, and the integrity of focusing on work every day, instead of playing around," he said. "The lesson is, if you put in the time, you can be great at anything."