By Michelle Roberts
In late May/early June, a number of my students at Southwest High School gathered in Biology Room 501 to embark on a climate murals project. Their goal? To help change the mindset of San Diegans.
I became involved in the murals project through volunteering with SanDiego350, who got input on the concept from local artist and muralist, Joanne Tawfilis, of the Muramid museum, Oceanside. SanDiego350 contacted Tawfilis and she got us started with some helpful insights on this type of project. Our volunteers then brainstormed on how we could adapt her concept so local kids could create murals relating to climate change.
SanDiego350 volunteer and artist, Anne Mudge, refined the concept in a Climate Murals PowerPoint presentation. Anne believes:
“Giving children and the youth a way to express themselves creatively as they explore the consequences of our actions gives them a sense of agency in a totally fun and community-building way. The images they create can be powerful motivators for the rest of us. Who isn’t moved by the hopes and visions of the ones who will be living in the world we hand off to them?”
On May 30, my students viewed the presentation — created to inform them of the intent of the murals project, the goals and guidelines. The students were able to view climate murals previously completed by school-age artists. I put the students into six groups of five where they brainstormed ideas on what they wanted their mural to look like. They drafted sketches and discussed what they wanted to portray. They wanted to depict that we’re at a “climate crossroads” and where the climate is headed if we don’t act and where it is headed if we do act.
Each group presented their ideas to the entire group. They discussed whether they would combine ideas or use just one idea. They ended up deciding to create six small murals to make up the five foot by eight foot mural.
After deciding as a group on what they wanted their mural to look like and what message they wanted to get across, they met again the next day. The students did some math and calculated the exact dimensions to make each individual mural. They all drew their ideas on a 8-foot by 5-foot canvas. After being satisfied with their artwork, they cooperatively worked to paint the mural with intricate painstaking detail making sure that none of their ideas were lost in the process.
As they were planning and sketching from the project’s inception until its completion in June, they took photos and videos to document their progress. I interviewed the participants and asked them such questions as, “Why are you participating in the murals project?”; “What do you think is causing climate change to this planet”; and “What do you hope to see change in the world to make the climate and the world healthier?”
These photos, videos and interviews were then edited into an approximately five-minute video that will be used to educate other school kids on how powerful they are in their ability to affect the world in a positive way. Please check out the video compiled by student El Spencer below.
The intent of the climate murals project is to get students involved in leading on climate change action and finding possible solutions to restore the climate to a healthy state. The students are to be the voice to bridge those that either don’t believe there’s a problem or don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it. The students’ creative, novel ideas are needed. Adults are more likely to listen to youth about the truth. The students’ time spent working on this project earned them community service hours for their hard work to better their community.
The Southwest Highschool students who participated in the climate murals project have studied ecology with me in my biology class. They are well aware of the importance of taking care of the earth for all beings that inhabit it.
I often have groups present at Southwest High School — groups like SanDiego350, I Love a Clean San Diego, and the Humane League. I also take my students on field trips to places like The Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista, where they gather water samples from the bay and test the quality, salinity, turbidity, and pH of the water, discussing how healthy the ocean is and causes of the decline in health.
I have selected the most knowledgeable, articulate students to be ambassadors for climate change from Southwest High School. These students, El Spencer, Betsy Ayarza, Sophia Castaneda, Joseph Rocha, and Avery McGeary, range in age from 11 to 17. These students came to the June 16 SanDiego350 Coastal Sunset Soiree fundraiser in La Jolla with the mural they created. They hung it up on the wall inside the venue. They gave mural tours every half hour to party-goers. They talked about their mural and why they created it. They also showed the video that was created about their mural. Guests were very impressed with their ability to present, their knowledge and their passion.
Michelle Roberts was raised in Bremerton, Washington and Orange County, California. She is a mother of two and has been teaching high school biology for 20 years. She was awarded 2017 teacher of the year by the Humane League. She first got involved with SanDiego350 after signing up at Earth Fair 2015.