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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

Ukiah High School Collaborates with Artists Worldwide to Spread Message of Kindness

Ukiah High School Collaborates with Artists Worldwide to

Spread Message of Kindness


Ukiah High School (UHS) 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 eight-year-old girl to wonder what would happen of 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 December 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, P.E., 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 (