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Art Project Showcases Kids' Personalities on EV Schools Under Construction

 7-year-old Prince Brown says the project makes him feel
7-year-old Prince Brown says the project makes him feel "like a celebrity."
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — A massive collage of smiles and silly faces now cover the facade of an elementary school that has for years been burdened with invasive construction.

The Inside Out Project, a global initiative that aims to harness the power of self-expression with larger-than-life portraits, has brought its traveling photo booth to Star Academy/P.S. 63 and the Neighborhood School to plaster their shared building at 121 E. Third St. with portraits of the kids aged kindergarten through fifth grade — and students and teachers say it has helped restore beauty to the heavily scaffolded building.

“This construction project has been a big stress for our school community for a really long time,” said Jodi Friedman, assistant principal of Star Academy. “When we got the opportunity to think about something that would bring beauty to the outside of our school again, it sounded like a really awesome idea and a call to action.”

Throughout May 18 and 19, students, teachers, parents, and a host of volunteers have worked with the art project to photograph every student of both schools and paste their portraits side-by-side across the bricks and wooden scaffolding around the perimeter of the building. 

The kids step inside Inside Out’s Photo Booth truck and are told to be themselves. Once the photo is snapped, a massive print sprouts out of the side of the truck — to the delight of the youngsters, who say they love seeing their personalities blown up on the wall of their school. 

“It feels like you can express yourself and how you feel about the school,” said 11-year-old Jocelyn Reyes, a fifth grader at Star Academy, who said her portrait perfectly reflected her personality.

“I always feel calm and happy,” she said.

Other students said the large-scale project really made them feel larger-than-life.

“It feels awesome,” said second grader Prince Brown. “Like I’m a celebrity.”

Meanwhile, the schools continue to ride out the now two-year-long facade renovation project that has shut down half the playground and all of the community garden, has blocked sunlight out of classrooms, and has left kids’ homework soggy with leaks from the ceiling. 

Though the project was initially supposed to wrap up in September 2015, the end date was pushed back to January 2016, and now the schools are now being told it is slated for completion by the end of the summer. 

But as the repairs drag on, the contractors have enthusiastically lent a hand with the portrait project, said Friedman — workers put up wooden boards across scaffolding to help hold the portraits, while others have volunteered to help paste the photos themselves.

“It is bringing people together who would not normally be together,” said Inside Out rep Nina Soutoul. 

Inside Out has carried out the project at schools across the city as part of its Back2School initiative. Other locations include M.S. 51 in Park Slope and P.S. 373 in Bushwick.