Holton’s ‘Be a Beacon’ dedicated; Mural shows the power of friendship, understanding, mentoring leader says

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The mural “Be a Beacon” at I.J. Holton Intermediate School, which celebrates differences, was dedicated Monday, with artist Greg Preslicka and school officials on hand.

Mary Barinka, founder of Peer Power Partners, said the mural “is a unique opportunity to visually express the power, or impact, of our peer partnerships which promote friendships, understanding and advocacy.”

Mary Barinka, head of Peer Power Partners, extends thanks to all who participated in making of the mural.

“We are all different,” she added, “not only in our various cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, but in the way we think, learn, communicate and process the world around us.”

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Peer Power Partners is a mentoring program that pairs students with disabilities with non-disabled students, who provide support, friendship and collaboration on projects. Both fifth and sixth graders mentors and mentees worked together on the mural.

Special education instructors Michelle Swank and Jessica Carlson spoke of how their students have embraced the program.

Stars containing descriptions of positive character traits were painted by the students in the mural. The jigsaw puzzle piece here is a symbol of autism, which was incorporated several times into the mural by artist Greg Preslicka.

“Through our educational system with the mentors, we are teaching students that we all fit in this world with diversity, demands, joy and success, despite our limitations, disabilities and environment,” Carlson said.

“This mural is just one visual representation of how Peer Power Partners can be the beacon that illuminates and inspires others throughout the community, not just here at our intermediate school,” said Swank.

Barinka, the mother of an autistic child, created the Peer Power Partners in 2013 in collaboration with the Parenting Resource Center, Austin Public Schools and Vision 2020. The program is also in place at Ellis Middle School and at Austin High School.

Austin Superintendent of Schools Dave Krenz (back to camera) and Austin School Board member Don Leathers get a close up view of the new mural on the north side of the I.J. Holton Intermediate School building.

The 53-foot-by-8 foot mural shows a hand holding a torch, with long waves of vibrant orange flames flowing against a blue sky, and interwoven with stars. Words like “unique,” “fairness,” and “kindness” — character traits to be lifted up — were colored into the piece.

Overall was a large hawk — a tribute to the school’s “Holton Hawks” — winging over the scene. On the east end, an Austin landscape is seen with landmarks.

The project was funded through a Dream Big: Turnaround Arts grant and the Hormel Foundation.