A circle of ceramic flowers now hangs above the 23rd Street entrance to Buena Vista Horace Mann, symbolizing the unity of the school’s community.
After a year of divisive political rhetoric aimed at immigrants, the teachers and parents at San Francisco’s first public Spanish-English immersion school hoped creating the work of art would send its students a powerful message: They are loved and important despite the tone of the national conversation about diversity.
The art is the outcome of what the school has dubbed the Unity Project. Every student, from the kindergarteners to the eighth graders, created one of the ceramic flowers. So did the teachers, staff and parent volunteers who helped facilitate the project. Each grade created its own type of flower. The youngest grade, the kindergartens, made the plate-like sunflowers; the seventh and eighth graders created hibiscus and roses, and staff members made orchids.
On Tuesday, their efforts came together as the community gathered on the steps of the school to show off the completed work.
“We wanted to do something that would be a community-builder, be empowering for the students, and make people feel like we are one connected unified community,” parent Deb Caperton, who helped spearhead the project, said.
Caperton and fellow parent Deb Gutof run Spark Ceramics together in the Bayview. Thanks to a grant from the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, an Oakland-based charity organization, they were able to work directly with students in their classrooms.
The idea for the work came from one of Gutof’s previous collaborative art pieces. In 2013, when Gutof taught fine arts at Menlo-Atherton High School, three of the school’s students lost their parents in a drunk driving accident. Then, Gutof also rallied the community to create a commemorative work of ceramic flowers.
At Buena Vista Horace Mann, ceramic flowers brought people together once more. Each of the school’s 650 students made one, and 62 family members worked with them do so.
Alicia Ramirez, the grandmother of a 4th grader, Catalina, volunteered to help the kids form the clay figures and paint them.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said, “and the kids love it.”
Andrea, a sixth-grader, said working on the piece was sometimes challenging, but she liked its message. “The art means that this whole school is together and a family,” she said.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Gutof told a gathering of second-grade students that they were loved and important. She pointed to the sculpture and said, “This is your reminder, every day when you come to school.”
One second-grade girl raised her hand to get the mic from Gutof. “Thank you for giving us peace and love and community for the whole entire school,” she said.
The work will stay on the wall permanently; Gutof even said she told the students they might one day bring their children to the school to show them what they have made.