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Sandy Journal

Alta High students collaborate to create mural that welcomes and embraces everyone

Feb 05, 2024 02:28PM ● By Julie Slama

During multicultural week, Alta High students, joined by city and educational leaders and the artist Bill Louis, cut the ribbon in honor of the new mural. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It was an unveiling. While it was an unveiling of a mural, it was more of an unveiling and celebration of many students’ cultures at Alta High.

“We wanted to make something schoolwide that would represent ourselves and would help everyone feel represented, feel seen and be included,” said Alta High senior Eduardo Medina Perez, who is the co-president of Alta’s Latinos in Action group.

His co-president, senior Chelsea Perez Rios, agrees. 

“We want to shine light to the diversity in this school,” she said. “There’s a lot of us and it’s growing more diversified every year.”

Around 2020, Medina Perez said there were less than 100 Latino students, now there are 300.

It’s not just Latino students. Junior Mariam Khan created the South Asian Student Association because “there were so many of us South Asians, I felt a club would bring us more together because we didn’t really know each other well.”

The mural, which was unveiled during the school’s multicultural week last fall, is above a staircase “that leads out to our bus loop and is one of the main arteries of the school, so it has a lot of visibility,” said Alta Assistant Principal Melissa Lister. “It represents Native Americans, Polynesians, Mexicans, Latin Americans, South Asian, Asian and we have the hawk and then the A, which represents Alta. It’s all encompassing. What you see in the mural is a gathering of the main cultures we have in our student body.”

Lister said that of Alta’s 2,365 students, aside from Caucasian students, Hispanic students make up the greatest percentage at 13 percent. Other breakdowns include 3% Asian, 2% Pacific Islander, 1.2% African American, 0.5% American Indian and 5%, multiracial.

“It really started with, what can we do to really make Alta known for being this multicultural haven for a lot of our students,” Lister said. “That’s when our LIA advisor (and teacher) Emily Gonzalez, came up with this idea of a multicultural mural last spring. She sought out our mural artist, and then we got a committee of students to meet with him a handful of times. We wanted our multicultural communities and our student body officers to give him input.”

Gonzalez recognized the need for Alta to have a visual representation of its culture.

“The hope was that this mural will significantly enhance the educational experience of our multicultural students and contribute to the tone of empathy and inclusivity of our Alta community,” she said.

Muralist Bill Louis said through meeting with students, he was able to see their vision.

“All the design the ideas came from the kids and then I brought in the sketches,” he said. “We went through seven or eight different designs. Everything had a tie to Alta, so we always had a hawk in there; sometimes we had flags or different designs for multiple countries. I took bits and pieces from the other designs to consolidate it to this image.”

Khan appreciated the procedure.

“We would give ideas so he really understood what we envisioned and what we liked,” she said. “I love how every single one of our opinions mattered and they, the administration and the artist, took value in them.”

Medina Perez said they wanted to showcase many of Alta’s cultures. 

“We made sure to have colors and symbols that we represent everyone so everyone could see themselves in the mural. We researched symbols of countries, for example stars on flags are a symbol that many countries have, for example, my country Venezuela has them, the United States, Brazil, Chile — many countries. We did the same with colors,” he said.

Perez Rios added the patterns also represented multiple cultures from Africa, Polynesia and Native American. 

Many of the students liked the part Louis was fond of best.

“I really liked the globe with the hands representing different cultures,” said the muralist, who is Pacific Islander. “All the kids love it best. That represents the unity of the world in this generation.” 

After school and into the evening, Louis stood on ladders and used spray paint with a clear coat to create the mural. It took him about 10 days, including 13 hours the last night.

“I wanted it to be more like graphic art, more urban art. Something that’s more modern to represent Alta and its growing diversity,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of different murals for schools and businesses and I feel that murals need to have a lot of color. It’s eye-catching; it’s vibrant and can change your mood with its energy. I wanted something visually appealing that pops out.”

Principal Ken Rowley believes Louis has done that, and also appreciated his effort to include the students’ vision in his work.

“When he met with all the different student groups, he would donate his time,” he said about the mural which cost about $3,000 and was paid from cell tower rental revenue. “He asked questions and told them, ‘I want to create something that you will be able to find yourself in this mural.’ We had more than 100 kids involved. They saw the final rendition before he painted and they all said, ‘I can find myself in this.’ When I heard that I thought, ‘He’s done a good job listening and seeing all our kids.’”

The mural unveiling was the final part of the school’s multicultural week that also included a multicultural walk in the commons area by country flags that represent current and former Alta students. The walk showcased students in their traditional dress who shared their culture through music, food and artifacts.

“We had tables from Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico and so many countries,” Lister said. “Our students wanted to learn more about their classmates’ countries and customs. For instance, some of our students from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan dressed in their hijabs. I love that they feel comfortable coming to school dressed in their traditional clothing. There’s no better feeling than seeing a kid be prideful and happy to show where they’re from.”

Lister, whose parents immigrated from Turkey, knows that first-hand. She navigated challenges as the only Middle Eastern student in her Florida high school and vowed to improve the support for multicultural students.

“Since I’ve arrived at Alta two years ago, I’ve wanted all our students, no matter what culture they come from, to be welcomed and have all the activities for everybody,” she said. “We’re trying to give them more of a voice in our school and to provide them with support. Our professional learning community provided resources to teachers, such as how to assist students whose English is not their first language, and they’ve given information to teachers about if there’s a behavior that is aligned with their culture. Before school started, I had a workshop for the teachers about cultural perception and awareness and differences of various cultures and expectations.”

Alta High also celebrates different cultures with awareness months and will host a multicultural assembly on Feb. 22. Last year, the assembly highlighted Polynesian, Chinese, German, Italian, Latin America and South Asian cultures.

“It’s our diversity that brings out our beauty,” Lister said. “And it’s through embracing our differences, that we get stronger. We’re wanting to celebrate that.” λ