Vikings keep watch over ELA

Malena Heineman, Staff Writer

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The average LASA classroom features four blank, beige walls, and twenty students’ desks facing a teacher’s desk at the front center of the room. So in order to make the classrooms their own, the teachers have to use unique and colorful posters, put interesting trinkets on their desks and sometimes even install full scale-murals on the walls of their rooms.

English IV teacher Mo Harry has a huge mural that covers the wall of his classroom. It depicts Hamlet on one side and Woman Warrior on the other, two characters from literature covered in his course, with a scroll between them that reads, “Language holds the power to bridge all barriers, providing a symbol for human potential.”

“I wanted something that would both bridge the course as far as where we start and where we end,” Harry said. “We start with Hamlet and we end with Woman Warrior, and that would reflect very different kinds of cultures we look at in the literature. The quote is also supposed to be showing that through literature we can understand very different cultures, but there are ways in which they can also be connected even though they are different.”

The mural itself was primarily painted by alumni Rosie Rittenberg and Gabriel Paonessa, who graduated in the class 2008. Rittenberg painted the Woman Warrior on the far right, and Paonessa painted Hamlet. But although the idea of a mural and the actual painting of it was by the students, it was Harry that came up with the message behind it.

“I was complaining about the institutional nature of the sort of beigish-white color of the classroom walls, and how oppressive that felt,” Harry said. “And there were some students, art students actually, and they said ‘Well, do you want a mural?’ and I said ‘Heck yeah I want a mural.’ I knew I wanted that cultural dichotomy and the quote, but other than that it was really the students who planned that out and decided what it would look like.”

Although the mural is painted mainly to Rittenberg and Paonessa, it has been added to over the years. In 2012, alumni Connor Shea added the small valkyrie and dragon painted near Hamlet. Another student who was friends with Rittenberger added high heels to the women surrounding the Woman Warrior on the mural, but this change was without permission.

“The high heels that are on the women near the woman warrior was not the original vision of Rosie Rittenberger,” Harry said. “It was actually a friend of hers that came in after she was finished and put the shoes on. It caused a falling out between the two, because she really didn’t like the high heels on them, and it took away from the Woman Warrior thing she had going on, and I agree. I didn’t necessarily like them either, so I thought I would point out that it was not what Rosie intended in the first place.”

Since the mural was painted in 2008, the curriculum of the English IV class has changed some, and some of the characters depicted are no longer a required part of the reading. But according to Harry, the message of the mural still remains the same.

“We still start with Hamlet and now we also start with Whit, another play, and Woman Warrior is one of two options at the end of the year, the other option being Things Fall Apart,” Harry said. “But the meaning has stayed the same. It’s a big part of everything we look at, all the literature we look at. We look at how there’s a bridge being made between the reader and the writer, and understanding a different perspective in the world.”