Ukiah High School collaborates with artists worldwide to spread message of kindness

Ukiah High School students recently participated in a collaborative, worldwide art project to promote peace and kindness—a mural that will be displayed in various locations throughout Ukiah before being permanently displayed on the Ukiah High campus.

The project was inspired by award-winning children’s author Kate Seredy’s story of a World War I battle during which Hungarian soldiers crawled all night through total desolation. When they reached safety, there was one tree still standing, and hundreds of birds of varying species were singing together, birds that do not naturally do so, creating a unique and beautiful song.

In 1999, that story inspired an 8-year-old girl to wonder what would happen if people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and traditions, came together to make something beautiful like the birds’ song. She asked, “What if the whole world made a painting together?”

Today, a forest of “Singing Tree” paintings have been created by almost 12,000 people worldwide, according to Laurie Marshall, co-founder of the Singing Tree project. Each painting explores a theme and honors the essential role trees play in human life.

This project came to Ukiah after UHS teacher Eveline Rodriguez attended a summer seminar where Marshall shared information about her project. With support from fellow MESA teacher Sezgin Ramirez and MESA director Matt Sweeney, Rodriguez enlisted their MESA students in an ambitious project to create the 49th singing tree mural.

The name of the Ukiah High tree is the Manzanita Singing Tree of Kindness, and in it, students use art to explore questions such as, “What is a memorable act of kindness that you received or gave?” and “Is there someone you were unkind to whose trust you need to restore?”

Marshall coordinated the project, coming to Ukiah on Dec. 5, 12 and 19. She asked students to draw their visions of kindness and she incorporated those visions into a final mural design. She then encouraged project participants to invite students outside the MESA class to decorate the manzanita tree by creating leaves where they shared their ideas about kindness.

Rodriguez said, “Almost 50 MESA students were involved, and everyone had a role. We had committees responsible for preparing the leaves, for creating instructions so others could participate, for painting the mural, for figuring out where to display it once it’s done, and many others.”

The project not only produced a beautiful work of art, it incorporated several academic subjects, as well as enhancing students’ social and emotional development.

MESA students learned about the role of manzanita trees in local ecology. They used mathematics to create the grid to enlarge the master design, and they used engineering to design and build the free-standing mural with the help of the woodshop students.

They also used communication skills as they collaborated with classmates and invited others to participate by adding to the mural or documenting the project for the yearbook. Students expanded their social and emotional learning as they explored kindness; and finally, they used creative expression as they produced unique images that reflected their personal understanding of kindness.

Rodriguez said she was pleased so many colleagues chose to have their classes participate.

“More than a dozen teachers from many different departments got involved, like English, psychology, PE, science, art, independent study, special education, and foreign language,” she said.

Part of the project included more than contemplating kindness: students who shared memorable acts of kindness were encouraged to continue to practice those acts, and students who shared stories about needing to restore trust or apologize were encouraged to follow up and make amends.

“For the students who participated, I think this project created awareness about kindness, and how important it is. I also think it gave them hope. It showed them they can make changes when they believe in themselves. We did this project in three weeks. We can do so much more when we work together.”

To learn more about the Singing Tree project, visit Marshall and co-founder Lili Lopez also work with an international non-profit whose mission is peace-building through art (

By Ukiah Daily Journal | |
PUBLISHED: January 23, 2018 at 12:00 am | UPDATED: August 23, 2018 at 12:00 am

Empowering Youth Through Creative Collaboration

Ukiah High School students dedicated a mural they created promoting peace and kindness throughout the community in April at the school as part of a worldwide art project.

The mural was part of the ongoing Singing Tree Project, which seeks to build a positive vision for communities through art projects by creating tree murals with individual themes like teaching for sustainable communities, social imagination, and strengthening the community. An eight-year-old child’s vision for the whole world to create a painting together inspired the Singing Tree Project, and since then the idea has spread to other countries and schools around the world as a way to promote peace through art.

The tree in the Ukiah High mural is called the Manzanita Singing Tree of Kindness and represents what the need for the community to recognize and improve upon the kindness they show to others. The Ukiah High Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) students came up with and helped create the theme of demonstrating public acts of kindness within the school and community during one of their class days. Marshall and around 50 students spent the remaining three class days brainstorming and coming up with ideas for the mural and what individual messages to put on the leaves of each tree.

The idea for bringing the mural project to Ukiah began when UHS teacher Eveline Rodriguez met with artist Laurie Marshall at an SSU teaching program in the summer, where they talked about the project and the possibility of Marshall helping create it with the students. With the help of funding from the Ukiah school district, the students gained inspiration from local artist Kate Seredy’s story of a World War I battle where soldiers escaped and found a single tree with birds singing together.

To help celebrate the new mural, the Ukiah High Choir sang songs of kindness, while students who were a part of the project read poetry and spoke about the effect of kindness in their lives. Many students who spoke said seeing small acts of kindness in their lives helped them commit to change the world and what they did in it. Marshall said that the mural helped them realize what they wanted to see and experience kindness within their community, as many students at times feel there is too much isolation.

“I loved how it was both an acknowledgment of both the beauty and creativity of the mural we made together and the focus on what kindness means, and that’s a way to change a culture to make the challenges into something that’s creative and beautiful,” said Marshall.

By Curtis Driscoll | |
PUBLISHED: May 5, 2018 at 12:00 am | UPDATED: August 23, 2018 at 12:00 am

Marin’s homeless youth get a hand

ART Mural project gives Marin’s homeless youth a hand – and a paintbrush

News article image

Laurie Marshall (right) helped Lindsay Rucker with the color choices for moss on a tree for the mural project.Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

Sam Laidig knows the ropes of being homeless. He knows which public bathrooms and parks are the cleanest and which coffee or doughnut shops open the earliest. He’s become a pro at staying awake all night to guard his belongings.

He is 19 and one of the estimated 2,600 homeless youth in Marin County – one of the nation’s wealthiest regions.

“I hope that I’m a post-homeless youth of Marin,” Laidig said with a wry laugh as he worked on a mural intended to depict a rosier future. “I spent the last few nights in a park bathroom in San Rafael, but I think I just found a place to live.”

Laidig is part of a mural project organized by two Marin County nonprofits, Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, and Unity Through Creativity, and supported by organizations including the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. Two days a week through July and August, youths gather in a home in San Rafael to paint, and to share their stories. They talk about what they’ve been through, and what they’d like for the future.

There are teenagers who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, and there are high school students who are involved because they want to make a difference and help a hidden population. The homeless and at-risk youth are paid for their work on the mural.

“It’s a community-wide mural project called ‘The Seasons of Hope Singing Tree,’ ” said Zara Babitzke, the founder of Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, an organization begun to create a safety net of housing and guidance. “It’s for this overlooked or forgotten youth population.”

Babitzke’s program helps youth ages 16 to 25 who are “push outs,” abandoned by their parents, or who have “absent parents,” parents who are unable to parent because of mental illness, incarceration or drug or alcohol dependency. The program provides emergency shelter, rooms with host families or apartments with peers. It also links youth to jobs, scholarships for college, counseling, and legal and medical aid.

“I envisioned the whole community coming together as ambassadors of hope and opportunity for young people without families,” she said, as a group of teenagers painted and others created leaves and birds to be placed on the painted limbs.

Babitzke partnered with Unity Through Creativity’s Laurie Marshall, who started engaging at-risk youth in art in 1999, and over the years has spearheaded the creation of 24 murals, with four 8-by-8-foot freestanding panels showing the same tree in four seasons. The finished murals are expected to go on a traveling exhibition to nearly two dozen Marin County schools and other organizations.

Kaila McDonald, who is 21 and formerly homeless, serves as the program director for Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity.

“I became homeless at 17 when I was taken out of my home by child protective services,” said McDonald, who attends UC Berkeley. “We are not as visible as the adult homeless because we are couch surfing and we sleep in cars. I slept in my car. I was working three jobs. I just wanted to go to college. I was helped by Zara and her program.”

Laidig, working nearby, said, “Being a part of this is great. I get to do art, which I haven’t really had the chance to do. The sentiment is good. It’s nice to be around people who care.”

Article write by Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 17, 2012 (used with permission)