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Volunteers install Grout School 'Language Garden Tile Mural'

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Grout School fourth grader Remy Munro shows his leaf tile, which is written in Swiss.Part of a multi-year volunteer effort to add some color to the “outdoor learning lab” at Daniel A. Grout Elementary School on Holgate Boulevard is paying off in a visible way – a“Language Garden Tile Mural” is being installed.

The bright and whimsical tile mural, forming a backdrop to the school gardens, it is comprised of student-decorated tiles that celebrate natural elements – such as the sun, flowers, and leaves.

Teresa Tamiyasu, a Grout parent, and leader of the art portion of the project, told THE BEE she has enjoyed teaching the students how to make the tiles over the past two years.

“I thought this herb garden would have more presence, if we had some art in this otherwise-blank- staircase concrete wall,” she explained.

The project started as an outdoor clay project. “The body of the clay is very dense, and suitable for outdoor conditions,” Tamiyasu said. “After it’s fired at ‘cone 6’, which is a very high fire – about 340° temperature – they turn into very sturdy porcelain tiles.”

At some time during the last two years, every student – and also many of the teachers – have participated in the project, creating some 700 colorful tiles.

Kaia Sand, another Grout parent-volunteer was helping Tamiyasu place the tiles during our visit.

“As this project evolved, Teresa and I really wanted to celebrate what we see as a real strength of the school – its diversity,” said Sand. “We decided to incorporate the more than 20 languages with which the kids have strong connections.”

So, with the help of families, they began gathering translations for words into languages represented in the Grout School student body. For example, Sand noted, the word “sun” is depicted in English, Spanish, Maay-Maay, Karen, Vietnamese, Russian, Somali, Cambodian, Nepali, Swahili, Burmese, Albanian, Oromo, Amharic, Cantonese, Japanese, Lao, Telugu, Thai, French, Malayalam, Ichishkiin, Hawaiian, and Swiss German.

“We saw powerful moments of discovery when a child, writing the word ‘sun’ in Russian, compared it to how her classmate wrote it in Cambodian,” Sand recounted.

“Another moment was when first graders were glazing tiles that had the word ‘flower’ on them in many languages. A little girl held up a tile and said, ‘This is a word for a flower that I don’t yet know!’”

In addition to the students, Tamiyasu area children attending the summertime Grout SUN Community School Art & Nature Class also made tiles, as did children in the Kateri Park Recreation Program.

D. A. Grout School Principal Susan McElroy was all smiles as she saw the mural’s progress. “It’s always a real benefit to have parents involved at our school – especially when then help make it more beautiful for kids and for the neighborhood.

“I really appreciate having parents jump in and take on a project like this,” McElroy added.

You can watch this tile mural grow in the northwest corner of Grout School; it’s visible from S.E. 31st Avenue just south of Holgate Boulevard.