Perhaps you’ve seen it while driving up Western Avenue, the rays of yellow and blue, the brightly hued honeycomb, the bee and quail, and the vividly colored peace flags gently moving in the breeze. What was once a dilapidated 1930’s gas station turned abandoned La Cotija mexican restaurant is now a gift of art to the Petaluma community, brought to us by the Art Angels club from St. Vincent High School. Coordinated by art instructors Marla Pedersen and Amy Waud-Reiter, 15 students met every Saturday this past fall to work on these beautiful murals with paint donated from Kelly-Moore Paints. The theme, emblazoned across the bottom of the building, is Ghandi’s inspiring message: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Cleaning up the La Cotija building, a major eyesore at a core intersection in our town, was a perfect vehicle of opportunity to allow students give back to their community and to fulfill their school service requirement. Pedersen told the SVHS Onlooker, “I saw it as a way for students to get involved in the community with an art project that will benefit the community and the students as well.” La Cotija became their canvas to share their creativity with everyone.Getting approval for this art project wasn’t easy. Pedersen and Waud- Reiter patiently and persistently contacted city hall, the building’s realtors, and the owners of the property again and again until they reached them and received approval.
As these dedicated high school students began priming and painting the building with symbols of peace and images of Petaluma, another group of students were getting involved as well. Students who are just starting their school-life journey. Motivated by Ghandi’s powerful message and the dedication and creativity of the Art Angels, preschool students from Arts in the Garden school were invited to put the finishing touches on this beautification project. The school decided to the create “peace flags” that now grace the perimeter of the building.
The process of creating these flags for what the preschool named the “La Cotija Peace Project,” became a journey for the teachers, children and parents that explored the ideas and experiences of “peace” on many levels. It is a beautiful example of project based learning and the promotion of community responsibility, coordinated by Arts in the Garden director Amy Rosenbaum and Marla Pedersen.
To get the students thinking about what “peace” means to them, together with their parents and teachers, they created a vocabulary of peace. They shared words like Love, Hug, Equal, Family, Gentle, Helping, and Quiet. Their words were painted on fabric squares that would become the flags. Then students and parents together created additional flags that depicted the meaning of their words in images. The images created were of hearts, birds, flowers, symbols, and lovely abstract patterns.
The students were involved in every step of the process of creating their peace flags. Once all the painting was complete, the fabric was laid out and measured by the students. They figured out how many fabric squares were needed to fit the space, 80 total, and then helped sew them together to form a swag that would drape around the La Cotija building.
Once the flags were completed, they were draped around the school’s garden to be enjoyed before sending them out into the world. On Saturday morning, December 21, 2013, the students, parents and teachers met at the La Cotija building to hang the flags and celebrate their accomplishment. They played, sang, and danced around the building, while teacher Billy Witz, guitar in hand, lead the students in familiar songs about peace, love, and gentleness.
“It is a remarkable collaboration between students who are graduating high school and students just beginning their journey, both participating in something so much larger than themselves, contributing to the community and making that little intersection at Howard Street and Western Avenue an inspiring heartwarming beacon,” Arts in the Garden parent Simone Haslam shared with the Petaluma Argus Courier. We couldn’t agree more.
Sheila Cunningham, current editor of Nurturers’ News, is a parent at the Arts in the Garden preschool. References used to create this article: Students are Back and Busy, Maureen Highland. Petaluma Argus-Courier. 1/10/14. Beautifying Petaluma One Block at a Time, Emily Charrier. Petaluma Argus-Courier. 11/25/13. La Cotija Beautification Project, Grace Jennings. SVHS Onlooker. 11/21/13.
Image Cedits: Amy Rosenbaum, Petaluma Argus-Courier
The children have been busy creating our tent on the stage with multiple fabrics that keep getting re-hung as needed to provide shade. It began as an extension of Aaron’s ‘tying’ project that he’s taken all over the school starting on the lower deck, moving to the upper deck, then down to the stage, now woven around the redwood grove (ala ‘Christo’!). He was in the garden and began weaving yarn in the fence. He then used twine around the stage poles and wanted to find a way for the twine to stay “up”. This engagement down at the stage became an invitation for the other children to explore this side of the garden. Being 3 & 4 years old and new to the school, the children tended to want to expand their play slowly since there was so much to do and take in with the music studio, art studio, playroom, sand play, upper garden and deck areas.
They soon wanted to picnic on the stage but the sun was just too hot. I brought large colorful fabrics down to add to the very colorful sheer fabrics already draped on the poles. The children said, “it needs to be up more“. Aaron’s twine was too low and kept slipping down. We inserted screw eyes in the poles and hung fabric. There was great excitement when we brought the basket of costumes down to the stage one day and everyone dressed up in so many colored garb! Aaron was interested in ironing some material with the new irons I brought down. Then he found a way to use his necklace as a pulley. This was no surprise given that he has spent several weeks working on his pulley project on the deck!
It is always inspiring when we see children making connections from one material to another … referred to as the many “languages” of children in the Reggio Approach. Aaron’s tying project merged into the pulley project that has merged into tent making on the stage.
After numerous tent designs the children are starting to want more involvement. The tent we put up was too high for them to make their own versions. They had a conversation about roofs and Anna said, “We need a roof!” and one that they could make themselves. We purchased more screw eyes so the children could build their tent roof at their own level. They discussed and measured their height and arm reach abilities, talked about the sun’s angles and rain, wove twine through the holes, hung fabric, and then … we had a picnic on our sun protected stage under our newly lowered tent!
The concept of constructing a “roof” has emerged in the playroom as some of the children are wanting almost daily time with the geckos outside of their tank. In the gecko ‘play area’ the children are experimenting with making ‘gecko caves’ and talking about roofs and types of enclosures. This is another interest area the children may broaden into a project. We will discuss and see over time.