By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 9, 2013
ATLANTA—The second-floor art room is where Sarah Piper goes to get away.
The high school senior’s art portfolio gives her a break from the words and numbers that challenge her.
“It is something that has helped me so much. I never found myself good with words, especially with dyslexia. I just hated writing and reading anything. But art has given me the chance to be able to express myself the way I haven’t been able to with words,” she said.
The second oldest child of a health care consultant and religious education teacher, Steve and Elizabeth Piper, the 18-year-old is finishing her fourth and senior year at Marist School, Atlanta. The Piper family attends St. Jude Church, Sandy Springs. Piper is certified to teach religion at the parish and sings with the Life Teen band. She spends a lot of time there.
“It’s an automatic home. It’s like my comfort zone, and whenever I am having trouble that’s the place I know I can go back to and still be welcome, no matter what’s going on. It’s safe,” she said.
For fun, she listens to country music and artists like Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood. When she reads, it’s often science fiction/fantasy, with “Game of Thrones” her latest book.
Just walking onto the Marist campus as a freshman was an accomplishment. She’s struggled with dyslexia since she was a youngster.
“A lot of people thought I wouldn’t even make it into high school. Just the fact that I got accepted to Marist and that I’ve made it through so far has been a huge thing for me,” she said.
The disability “sort of fades” into her day, she said. “I’ll be reading pretty normally and then I’ll have to slow way down to be able to get through a sentence.”
The “letters start to move” when she gets tired. “In my mind they get really jumbled and that happens a lot with numbers, letters.” What takes her classmate less than an hour to read, takes her five.
“It never really goes away. I’ve just learned how to cope with it well,” she said.
She’ll use colored pens to make it easier to distinguish between topics in her class notes. She’ll take breaks.
And that’s where art comes in. She’s finishing her 24-piece portfolio to earn advanced placement credit. A dozen pieces use paint, color, pencils, or charcoal to illustrate fabric in various settings. Her goal is “focusing on the way fabric flows and how it can express emotion,” she said.
Art teacher Patrick DeAngelis said Piper crafts her art in a way not often seen among high school students.
“As an artist, she is so thoughtful and very personal about what she’s doing,” he said, adding her future in art is full of promise.
“It’ll be amazing to go and see what she does with it. It’s so much more raw and personal. It’s like an expression of her honest self,” he said.
As a student, she is quiet but has the “most approachable personality,” he said.
Next year she’ll be studying at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, taking a program where first-year students are immersed in the art and history of Florence, Italy.
As a senior, Piper suggests that younger students entering high school practice patience. There is a lot of anxiety over a grade, whether a student gets into a club, or on a team, so the worry can take an emotional toll, she said.
“So, it’s important to be patient through those times and not let it completely destroy you if it’s bad, or if it’s good, great,” she said.
And after college, Piper’s goal is to help others see the richness of art as a teacher.
She wants to “bring color,” she said.
“A lot of times, the strict rules and all the strict things in our life, just seem to make life fade into grays, and blacks and whites,” she said. “But being able to educate people and doing it in a fun way can just bring color to their life.”