Submitted by North Thurston Public Schools

If you’ve walked through North Thurston High School’s courtyard lately, you can’t help but notice a striking creation of rainbow-colored glass blocks framed in an aluminum arch taking its place between the gym and the school.

Walk a little closer and you’ll notice an image of a fingerprint is digitally printed on the center of the glass pieces, while along the outside there are multiple student responses to the prompt of “I am…” in one to three words, and in several languages, including:

“I am the best that I can be.”

“Soy asombroso.”

“I am bigger than my mistakes.”

“I am a Black Queen.”

“I am limitless and unstoppable.”

“One of the things that draws people in is wanting to take that closer look and really read and engage with the piece,” said Sara Foppiano the North Thurston High School art teacher who worked to develop criteria for the design of the piece as outlined by students and a committee.

The art was produced as a partnership between the Washington State Arts Commission and North Thurston Public Schools. Titled “We Are…North Thurston High School,” it was designed by artist Gregg Schlanger and represents the “diversity of the school while also recalling the history of the original structures.” The school’s original gym was a simple barrel vault construction, its side walls also filled with glass squares of different colors.

“As a committee member, it was a great pleasure working with an artist who took so much time to get to know the community and do a real ‘deep dive’ into our institutional history,” said Stephen Coker, Athletic Director/teacher librarian at North Thurston High School. “I think the result captures that commitment and helps make the work accessible to a broad spectrum of our community.

Students, staff, School Board directors, and community members gathered this fall for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the art installation, which was delayed due to the pandemic. Schlanger also attended the event and talked about the concept of the thumbprint, which represents the individual, as well as the students wanting the piece to represent them and their diversity.

“It is my hope with this project that people/students will bring who they are to the piece,” said Schlanger, who is also a professor of art and chair of the Department of Art + Design at Central Washington University. “While my job is finished, I hope they can complete the piece by making a connection to the concept and with the addition of their identity. I hope students will continue to answer the prompt, “I AM ….”.

Learn more about “I AM” on the Gregg Schlanger website.

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