Submitted by Denair Unified School District
A barren piece of ground and an empty wall have been transformed into an abundant garden and beautiful mural by an eclectic group of Denair students known as “The Green Team.”
First-year Denair Charter Academy teacher Gynae Jerner gets credit for the concept, which involved dozens of elementary and high school students. An avid gardener, Jerner envisioned it as a way for older students to mentor their younger peers while bringing to life classroom concepts involving science, hard work, responsibility and collaboration. She pitched the idea to leadership team at three campuses last year and the project took off from there.
Kindergarteners through fifth-graders from Denair Elementary School and the Denair Academic Avenues charter school “adopted” one of the 10 plots in their campus’ garden, which sits next to some portable buildings west of the cafeteria. They were paired with about two dozen Denair High School volunteers who were assigned to specific classrooms to uniquely design each space.
Jerner solicited donations of seeds, flowers, tools and other materials, and coordinated all the activity. The Green Teams meet weekly to plant, fertilize, water and weed their plots. Summer and fall flowers and vegetables were sown first before giving way to winter plants. In the spring, the gardens were rotated again with seasonal plants. Today, the gardens still are abloom with 5-foot sunflowers and ripening tomatoes tended to by Jerner and her husband.
“It was an amazing experience for all of the kids and Ms. Jerner did a wonderful job,” praised Sara Michelena, the elementary principal.
The popularity of the project and the positive reaction it generated around campus led to the addition of the mural in May. As pretty as the gardens were, they were bordered on one side by a blank gray wall. What if, Michelena thought, that empty space – roughly 30 feet wide and 12 feet high – could be transformed into something equally attractive?
She shared her idea with third-grade teacher Nancy Tanner, who has a passion for art.
“I have been dreaming of doing this for years, so I was thrilled,” Tanner said.
She pitched the plan to the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers. Together, they invited about 20 students interested in art to participate.
“At the first meeting, I told the kids what the vision was: a wall of flowers — fantasy flowers, realistic flowers and whatever else they could imagine that you would see in a garden,” Tanner said. “The second day, they brought their wonderful, creative drawings and practiced on the white board.”
Next was the actual painting, which took place over two days during school hours the week of May 18. The artists were given five shades of outdoor paint – red, white and yellow in addition to white and black. They mixed their own colors and, without any outlines, enthusiastically went to work on the wall, which Tanner and fellow teacher Carol Hammond already had painted a vibrant blue for background.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BPDZ8IA_js
“It was beautiful to see friendships develop, ideas shared, problems solved and just pure joy of painting something beautiful to share with the community,” Tanner said. “The kids are very proud of their work, and for good reason.
“It is my mission to show the public that the arts are every bit as important as the academic subjects we teach in school. This project makes that message visible on a daily basis.”
Michelena credits Jerner and the Green Team’s garden for inspiring a “beautiful mural.”
“Both are works of art and both showcase the love our people have for these schools,” she said. “The bridging that took place between DES, D2A, DCA and DHS was awesome!”
And, Michelena promised, the cross-campus creativity will continue. “The Green Team has high hopes of tackling the garden area adjacent to my office next year.”