Where would you prefer to send your child to school?
Does one seem more kid friendly than another? More playful? More inviting?
Does investing in the aesthetics of school environments matter?
When I first met with Christy Flahavan, she described the campus at Springer Elementary as "the ugly stepchild" of the Los Altos School District. "Putty on putty" was the color palette and portable classrooms (putty colored, of course) dominate the entrance to the school. Can we all agree that portable classrooms have "room for improvement" in their aesthetics? Fortunately, painted artwork provides an inexpensive solution to beautify environments when larger capital investments are not an option. Christy's dogged determination to breathe fresh life into the campus on the shoestring PTA budget has resulted in a spate of beautification projects that are transforming Springer. If you visit the school today, you might have an entirely different first impression than you might have had just over a year ago.
My first project with Springer involved transforming their Kindergarten playground into an interactive learning garden, with the help of a dozen volunteers, in 2016:
Earlier this year the PTA funded a mural on the back of the administrative building, which faces the center of the school. The mural celebrates the local landscape and brings the feeling of a nature preserve to the heart of the campus. Most recently, the principal, Lynn Boskie, used part of her discretionary budget to add pavement art that compliments the wall mural. We created a pun from the school mascot, the "Springer Stingers" bee, to create a "Who do you want to Bee today?" art campaign. The artwork ties in with the growth mindset and citizenship qualities Springer embraces in their curriculum. Most foot traffic entering the campus passes over the artwork, so the whole school community can read it as they head to class.
The principal came up with seven "Springer Bee Qualities" that support a positive learning environment and are also simple enough for the youngest students to understand: Bee kind, bee brave, bee playful, bee persistent, bee confident, bee helpful and bee curious. Sign me up! By incorporating each quality into flower-themed vignettes that were sprinkled throughout campus, the artwork creates a seek and find game. Each vignette features one of the seven Springer Bee qualities, a friendly bee or two, and a local pollinator flower.
The murals tie in with the academic curriculum as well. Fourth graders studying California history can use the legend on the side of the landscape mural to identify the California quail, California poppy, or a red tailed hawk. During a Living Classroom science unit, kids can identify key pollinator flowers like hummingbird sage and recognize showy milkweed flowers when they discuss the importance of milkweed, the only food source of Monarch caterpillars.
One of the days I was painting a student poked their finger in the wet artwork when I wasn't looking and added their own finger painting to the art and wall. As I was repainting the lettering (bee curious), I realized that they were actually just following directions. Careful what you ask for.
The pavement paint cans are significantly heavier than gallons of regular paint. That is my only excuse as to why, as I was loading up the van, I spilled an almost full can of yellow pavement paint in the parking lot. As I looked down at my now yellow shoes standing in a yellow puddle, I was reminded of a T shirt my friend sometimes wears that says, “A huge solar spill is just called a nice day.” The paint spill sure seemed like an unfortunate event, but the solar spill quote gave me an idea...
I emailed an explanation and apology to the principal, but she didn’t have a chance to read it before the staff meeting the next morning. She asked the staff what they thought of the art so far. One teacher responded, “I love it! I especially like the 'Bee happy' sun in the parking lot.” The principal was stumped. "What sun in the parking lot?"
Ummm... this one:
Despite there bee-ing a few adventures and unknowns in the creation process when making an original work of art, murals are the least expensive way I know to bring aesthetic beauty into school environments. I offer all schools a 30% discount off my regular rates because I believe that beautiful school environments make a difference in how staff and students feel about school. This project was also made possible by the volunteers, including local professional artists, who donated their time. The artwork at Springer is inviting, specific and relevant to their school community, and also provides an inspiring vision for the values they want to embrace and celebrate.
1. Plant milkweed in your garden.
2. Help fund a mural project at your local elementary school.
Class dismissed. Oh, and go enjoy a solar spill.