What do you get when you combine language, art, nature, and dedicated parent volunteers? – A bright and whimsical tile mural celebrating the wonderful cultural diversity and creativity at Grout Elementary School.
Over the past three years, the tiny hands of over 300 children and the guiding hands of countless volunteers have been carefully crafting clay tiles and glazing them with the full spectrum of striking colors that Oregon’s landscape has to offer. The tiles depict fish, birds, flowers, insects, leaves, and many other animated elements of nature.
As the sun is the center of our solar system, so too is it at the heart of the mural. The beginnings of it are already being pieced together from yellow, orange, and red tiles of all different shapes. Look carefully, and you will see the word for “sun” written in the 20 plus languages that make up the school’s current community.
Grout Elementary School’s tile mural project began with the goal of creating a cohesive visual statement that would connect the values of arts, nature, and diversity; one that simultaneously communicates the community’s tie to the natural environment and to the cultural and linguistic variety that are at its core. Through its metaphor as the “Language Garden,” the project coordinators hoped that the qualities associated with the garden – hope, future, growth, potential – would become attached to the diversity of the community.
Although not fully installed yet, the mural has already shown its ability to create, inspire and demonstrate connection between and for the students. During the process of making the tiles, a child writing in Russian and a child writing in Cambodian leaned over and compared each other’s writing with admiration. A group of six girls writing in Karen delighted in helping each other, chatting animatedly and a first grader exclaimed with delight, “My tile says flower in a language I don’t yet know!”
When the project is complete, the garden and its mural will not only serve as a welcoming community gathering space for neighbors of all ages and backgrounds, but it will also be a reminder of the richness of diversity that this community clearly embraces.
This project is the result of a thoughtful collaboration between Grout staff and PTA, SUN Community Schools, Kateri Park and Esperanza Court through Catholic Charities, and Portland State University Applied Linguistics Program. It was made possible by the efforts of countless volunteers and school staff, including the two tireless project leaders, Teresa Tamiyasu and Kaia Sand; Principle Susan McElroy; and Secretary Dusty Parker. Project funding was generously provided by SE Uplift’s Neighborhood Small Grants Program and the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation Toolbox for Education Grant.
More information about SE Uplift’s grant recipient, The Language Garden, can be found at http://groutlanguagegarden.wordpress.com
By: Kelly Fedderson