When students at Bonita Street Elementary School in Carson return to classes this fall, they will not only notice new growth in the school’s vegetable garden, but also an artistic embellishment to the garden’s tool shed. A mural of butterflies and bees in a sunlit setting now adorns the shed thanks to California State University, Dominguez Hills Department of Art alumni.
Teri Ito Abbott, director of the university’s Center for Teaching Careers, often sends liberal arts students to Bonita Street as volunteer teacher aides. When one of the teachers asked her if she could organize Dominguez Hills students to paint murals at the school, she approached assistant professor of art Jim Keville, who called upon former students who had formed an alumni group called Arty Essence. One of the founding members, Eunice Gearhart (Class of ’09, B.A., studio art), coordinated the garden’s mural, which began in March and was completed this summer.
Having participated as a student in a mural project for the Watts Health Center in 2008, she said it was “very exciting” to take part in the Bonita Street project at a time when she was getting her own painting career off the ground. She is looking forward to providing students at Bonita Street with of the opportunity to create their own murals on their campus
“There are some good artists in this school, I’ve seen their art, and it’s beautiful,” Gearhart says. “They can fill in the charcoal outlines and take pride in what they do. As a result of that, they’ll be able to have more interest in art and sharing.”
Jose Pina (Class of ’09, B.A., studio art) grew up in Carson and has worked for the city in parks and recreation since his days as an undergraduate at CSU Dominguez Hills. He currently remains involved in Carson’s art education and projects, and has recently established an open studio drawing class for adults at the Carson Community Center. When his former professor asked if he would help, Pina jumped at another chance to help beautify his neighborhood.
“Even though I didn’t go to school here, I drive by [Bonita Street Elementary] a lot,” he says. “It sounded like a great opportunity to give visuals to kids and improve their everyday quality of life, instead of [them] seeing big empty walls that are probably going to be vandalized.”
Yvette Flores (Class of ’09, teaching credential), is the only alum involved in the project who did not major in art. As a substitute teacher for Downey Unified School District, she sees first-hand how the lack of art in schools has impacted today’s elementary students.
“What happens because there’s no art? Some of them can’t think on their own, they always ask, ‘What am I supposed to do?,’” says Flores. “They don’t have [exposure to] that creativity like we used to. I try to incorporate some art projects in [my teaching]. And the kids get excited.”
Flores says that the ability to enjoy or create art should be made accessible to all students and not limited to just learning about famous artists or going to high-profile museums, which for some students, may be out of reach. She says that she encourages her colleagues to “get [students] involved in more art projects… Maybe bring in local artists so they can talk about what they do and how they do it.”
Abbott commends recently retired principal Eva Ybarra, who provided the artists with the paint and materials, for her cooperation and enthusiasm She says that Bonita Street Elementary has had a longstanding tradition of murals that have been created on the campus by students and community members since the 1970s. A teacher and administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District for nearly 35 years, Abbott says that the collaboration between Bonita Street and CSU Dominguez Hills has helped to continue providing a nurturing learning environment.
“Children’s academic and social successes are positively affected when their learning environment is conducive to learning,” she says. “It’s peaceful, beautiful, calm, inviting, and has order–it’s a place where children want to be, [and] feel safe and comfortable to learn.”