Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

Flowers & Folds: Biodegradable Origami Art at Ukiah High School

The project has been underway for the past two months and involves art and math – with an eye toward supporting our local ecosystems and minimizing our negative impacts on the environment. After learning the basics of origami (the ancient art of Japanese paper-folding), students spent weeks folding 1,000 envelopes out of a special biodegradable, water-soluble paper. On Monday, they filled these envelopes with soil, rocks, and native California poppy seeds. The rest of the day was spent preparing the ground on the hill outside of the math buildings. Students weeded and raked for hours before conducting a hands-on geometry lesson: using sticks and string to draw perfect concentric circles from 1 foot to 20 feet in diameter. Students carefully laid out the seed-filled envelopes along the circles. The final touch was to place a cluster of orange ceramic poppies in the center – a pop of color from the UHS ceramics classes that hint at the real poppies that will come later. 

Consterdine, a UHS alum, states, “The project is supposed to break down and change over time – it’s gonna rain again, the paper will dissolve, and then next spring we’ll have wildflowers… This project is partially inspired by Tibetan sand mandalas.... A Buddhist monk in Tibet will spend years and years learning how to make these incredibly detailed mandalas using different colors of sand… Then they destroy it. It’s about ‘returning to the elements’ – they don’t believe that death is the end of things. Everything’s moving from one form to another. Someday we’re all gonna be dirt again. And then something else. We’re not supposed to try and hold on to anything… This project will turn into dirt and food for the flowers next year.” 

The MESA students have overwhelmingly positive feedback for the project: 

Jesus Sanchez, Kali Escobedo-Bernal, Alexis Sanchez, Leonardo Mendoza-Echeverria, and Alonzo Reynoso all echoed that folding was their favorite part of the project, saying it was “relaxing,” “calming” and “fun.” 

“My favorite part in doing this project was being able to create something small that contributed to something bigger,” says Camila Cuadra. 

Adan Carrillo and Kirtan Magan both agree that “going outside” to work on “landscaping” and “constructing art” was their favorite part. 

“My favorite part of the project was filling the little pockets with dirt and seeds. I learned how to fold my own projects, and even learned some basic gardening, too,” says Estrella Quiñones. 

According to Raphael Mendoza, “It was fun placing down the packets and having it all align. Strategizing how far we place it to keep it consistently spaced was fun, too.” 

“My favorite part of the project was forming and glazing the ceramic poppies.. what I learned is that it's incredibly hard to make a flower out of clay,” says Connor Judd. 

“I learned that origami can be transformed into multiple uses. It’s fascinating how biodegradable paper can create beautiful life forms with native Californian poppies. I’m excited to see how the project completes itself,” writes Alondra Campuzano. 

“I found a lot of value in the simple act of collaborative labor towards a common cause; some honest collaboration is something that I think we could all use some more of in our daily lives,” adds Sage Feirer. 

And Adrian Guevara sums up the project: “My favorite part about this origami project was the project itself because it was a creative and environmentally-conscious activity that combined art and gardening. Making origami envelopes and using them as seed bombs was a fun and practical way to spread plant life and contribute to the ecosystem. By cleaning out the area and preparing the soil, we provided a fertile ground for the [poppy] seeds to grow. The circular patterns we created with the envelopes not only added aesthetic value but also helped to distribute the seeds more evenly. [Poppies] are known for their resilience and ability to grow in various conditions, making them a great choice for this project. As the plants grow, they will provide food and habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Overall, this origami project was a great way to combine creativity, sustainability, and environmental stewardship.” 

Consterdine adds, “It takes a lot of people to create a project like this. I want to say ‘thank you' to this whole MESA department, Jim Persky, the ceramics teacher, local business Design Shoji for the materials for the sign, and local artists Lillian Rubie and Thalia Luciani for helping me brainstorm for this project… Also, check out SF in Bloom if you’re wanting to know more about planting native flowers and helping local pollinators. They call themselves “guerilla gardeners” and they were another inspiration for this project.” 

The origami mandala will be available to enjoy until the rains come again. The project is expected to bloom next spring. 

MESA – Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement – provides college prep support for students, focusing especially on providing equitable opportunities for underrepresented students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, MESA students have opportunities to get involved in extracurricular STEM activities and volunteer in the community.


Photos by Olivia Consterdine.