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Claiming their space — Bogue Chitto seniors paint parking lot

The only love Kirby Reid’s talkin’ ’bout is for Les Paul guitars and Van Halen. Jarrett Leonard fights for truth and justice like his hero Captain America. Calee Beth Bonds’ little white Beetle sits on a bed of asphalt flowers.

These are some of the seniors at Bogue Chitto High School who painted their personalities in their parking spaces.

About 35 students in the class, out of about 52 seniors, participated in the beautification project that turned drab, gray parking spots into rectangular works of art.

Principal Scott Merrell praised his students for their creativity.

“The artistic flare on these are beyond anything I ever expected. You have to see them to believe how good they are,” he said. “They far exceeded my expectations on it. I was hoping that it would look good and I came out and I thought, oh my. That was really cool. It’s ridiculously good.”

Reid, 17, chose to paint a Les Paul guitar in his spot. His uncle played in a band and the 17-year-old is learning to play.

“It’s probably one of my favorites and it’s probably one of my coolest ones I could paint,” he said.

The staff of musical notes is a riff from one of his favorite songs, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love,” by Van Halen.

Jarrett Leonard, 17, pulls his mom’s ’76 Stingray Corvette into his spot, which is the red, white and blue shield of Marvel patriotic superhero. Leonard’s mother, Melissa Allred, is an Iraqi war veteran who makes quilts for veterans. She and Leonard’s stepfather, an Operation Desert Storm veteran, deliver quilts in the car, which is painted to resemble an American flag.

He jumped at the chance to paint a spot his senior year.

“It’s a good way to express how you are,” he said.

The students completed the project over the course of about two weeks, painting under canopies to escape the blazing sun and setting up lights at night to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Allred parked an RV in the lot to give students AC and cold drinks.

About 10 students painted spots last year, which was Merrell’s first year at Bogue Chitto. Students asked if they could do it again this year.

“I like self expression in schools like this,” he said. “I like for them to be part of a team and a family and a community, but I also like for them to express their interests. I like for them to be individuals yet part of a family. This is an individual expression of who they are as a senior. This is their last year. It means a lot to them to leave their mark here, even if it’s just something as temporary as paint on asphalt.”

Merrell said the community came out to watch the progress.

“I could have charged gate for all the people that came through and looked at these spots,” he said. “I think the entire community drove through and looked at them as they were doing them. I did not expect as much interest in it from the community.”

Students weren’t required to get approval for their ideas, but they had to keep it clean and “something you wouldn’t mind your mother seeing,” he said.

Merrell checked each day, but never found anything that lifted his eyebrows.

“I couldn’t have been happier with it,” he said.

He expects the parking spot painting project will become a rite of passage. Some juniors are already planning their painting.

“They’re going to try to top them is what they’re going to do,” he said.

Reid doesn’t think they will be able to.

“They’re not topping mine,” he said.

Merrell also has ulterior motives for promoting the parking project.

“Art is something we don’t have here. It’s something I desperately want,” he said. “This may garner enough interest to get people thinking about it and helping to support it. We have band and chorus. I want to keep adding things as much as I can to offer as much opportunity to kids as I possibly can.”

Stephanie Holmes, an artist whose children are third generation Bobcats, helped the seniors design their spots. She took their ideas and helped make them reality.

“With most schools, aside from Mississippi School of the Arts, not having art programs, the artistic side of the brain is not stimulated to the degree the academic side of the brain is,” she said. “I just helped them get that area fired up.”

Some parents asked for her help so she brainstormed with the seniors to discover their interests.

“Then we put that into a 9-foot-by-18-foot work of art. The parents and students painted the majority of the art, I just helped with the layout and some details,” she said. “The look on the students’ faces when you hand them the paint brush and tell them they are painting it was absolutely priceless.”

Holmes, the daughter of former Bogue Chitto athlete Speck Davis, said she wants to contribute to the school and help create new traditions.

“I bleed blue and gold. I want to contribute to this place and creating new traditions is something that is always good,” she said. “Second, I believe art is a powerful thing. It can heal or divide. I’ve watched a community drive through looking at this student art exhibit. I’ve watched parents and students bond and share supplies.”