Art project promotes unity

In 1982, artist Paul Goodnight was hired as part of the Massachusetts Artists-in-Residence program to teach a 3-month residency at suburban Lincoln-Sudbury (Mass.) Regional High School. At the time, there was racial tension between the school's predominantly white student body and the small number of black students who were bused in from Boston through the METCO program. Bradford Sargent, superintendent/principal at the school, says they sought a black artist to help ``bridge the gap between students and to give the black students a chance to share a glimpse of black culture with the whole school community.''

The artist assembled a core group of 16 black and white students and they began planning a 70-foot wall mural for the school.

``I divided them into teams,'' Mr. Goodnight says ``and they had to overcome their conflicts to work together.'' He believes his ability to ``really listen'' to the students was the key to the project's success. ``If you're very real with kids, they'll be real with you. ... They can tell if you're only interested in whether they learned the lesson well or if you care how the ideas fit into their own experience of life.''

As the mural developed, the students' enthusiasm attracted their friends to the project and a schoolwide sense of pride began to evolve. ``After a time, everyone wanted to get involved,'' says Goodnight with obvious pleasure, ``and that includes the teachers and the janitor too! Kids would give up lunch and recess just to put in some time on the wall.''

Even now, Goodnight still keeps in touch with most of the students in his workshop - seven of whom, he is proud to note, chose to go on to art school. Because the experience was so positive, this past year the high school had the artist return to do a new mural project for the auditorium. And this time, there was no shortage of student volunteers.

``His whole life is dedicated to making a difference'' is Mr. Sargent's ultimate praise for Goodnight.

``I look at that mural now and I remember those students, the pride in what they'd accomplished ... and it reminds both students and teachers: there's a real world out there beyond the classroom. Sometimes we forget.''

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