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South County Career Center students excited about designing mural

Juan Mena, left, and other students at the South County Career Center in Ruskin are learning from local artist Michael Parker.

Monica Bennett | Special to the Times

Juan Mena, left, and other students at the South County Career Center in Ruskin are learning from local artist Michael Parker.

RUSKIN — Christy Shaw enrolled at the South County Career Center to continue her high school studies and learn a trade.

She's also thrilled to pursue art, since drawing tops the list of her favorite pastimes.

But Shaw admits she's a little bit nervous that the artwork she and others will create will be on display in the city's downtown instead of in a sketchbook.

"Everyone in Ruskin is going to see it!" said Shaw, who lives in Ruskin.

Local artist Michael Parker is working with Shaw and 23 other students at the career center to create three murals.

Parker, a well-respected artist who lives in Ruskin, holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and the University of South Florida. The Massachusetts native teaches art at Hillsborough Community College and made headlines last year for designing the 12,000-square-foot mural on Adamo Drive in Tampa that depicts the history of Ybor City.

Parker is fond of the kids at the South County Career Center, where students have a chance to earn a high school diploma while also learning a trade. He is happy this project is helping them enjoy their artistic passions while also promoting their school.

"They're just starting out," he said. "They're still excited about creating things."

The hand-painted murals will depict some of the students as well as the seven courses of study at the school: nursing assistant, JROTC, automotive, culinary arts, emergency medical responder, construction technology and teen parent. The murals also will feature inspiring words, such as determination, teamwork and confidence.

When finished, the murals will be displayed on the side of a building in downtown Ruskin for about a year. They will then be returned to the school and placed in the cafeteria.

Parker works with the students on Mondays. Each teen, armed with pencils and chalk, works on a specific section of the panels, which are made of aluminum and plastic. Over the next few months, they will paint the panels and cut them into medallion shapes.

Parker consults, tweaks and corrects, but most importantly, guides with kind words and plenty of praise.

"This is one of the best groups I've ever worked with," he said. "These kids have real focus and talent."

Parker said he is impressed with the students' work ethic and hopes the mural project boosts their confidence and exposes the community to the good work going on at the career center.

The school's staff and students realize Parker could be working with students at other schools but chose them.

"We feel very fortunate," said Vickie Thomas, the career center's program adviser.

Parker received $3,000 from the Hillsborough County Arts Council and Carolyn F. Heller family grant to create the murals with the students.

For Shaw, 19, and Edy Morales, 16, the sessions with Parker are the highlights of their week.

"It's not work," said Morales, of Wimauma. "It's something I enjoy doing."

Monica Bennett can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

South County Career Center students excited about designing mural 02/21/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 1:02pm]

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