La Jolla Country Day students create 2,000 ceramic butterflies for Holocaust remembrance project

For the first time, the entirety of La Jolla Country Day School participated in a commemoration and remembrance of children lost in the Holocaust, through The Butterfly Project, Nov. 9 on its campus at 9490 Genesee Ave. The event included speakers, concerts, readings and painting sessions — and culminated with students forming a football-field sized butterfly outdoors.

As part of the global initiative — which seeks to create 1.5 million butterflies in honor of the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust in Europe between 1938 to 1945 — more than 2,000 ceramic butterflies were painted by students and staff throughout the day, and will be officially recorded as part of The Butterfly Project count.

The ceramic butterflies will later be converted into a permanent installation on campus as a reminder of the lessons of respect, social responsibility and empathy that can be taken from the tragic event that claimed the lives of millions of Jewish people.

According to its website, The Butterfly Project was co-founded in 2006 by educator Jan Landau and artist Cheryl Rattner Price at San Diego Jewish Academy. The pair wanted to take Holocaust education out of the textbook and bring it to life in a way that inspires students to make the world a better place, using its lessons to teach about the dangers of hatred and bigotry through art.

As part of her opening remarks, Cheryl Rattner Price said: “May your ceramic butterfly displays bring ongoing dialogue that empowers people of all backgrounds and beliefs to create a more peaceful world. What you are doing here matters. I thank you.”

History teacher Jonathan Shulman, who organized the event, said the concept of dignity is a cornerstone of this year’s campus climate and was a common thread in making the event age-appropriate for all its students.

“This project focuses on discussions of dignity,” he told La Jolla Light. “The project itself started around memorializing the children killed in the Holocaust, and has become a symbol for all children killed in political and ethnic violence. Dignity is so much more than just a word, it’s who we are and how we live. To be able to walk around the school and see these installations … each one representing dignity ... that is very exciting to express artistically. At the same time, it becomes a constant affirmation for us.”

As part of his address, Country Day head of school Gary Krahn encouraged students to take the hand of the person next to them for an exercise in dignity. “That hand you are holding might belong to a girl or a boy, someone who came from another country, who might have a different religion than you do,” he told students. “That person might be different from you. But while you are holding their hand, I hope you feel the beauty of humanity.

“When we talk about inspiring greatness for a better world by leading with dignity, the key word is dignity. Dignity means realizing every human has value. We are here at La Jolla Country Day School to get an education so we cannot only solve complex problems, but we can treat everyone with dignity. That is your job and I want you to be committed to that.”

To make the take-aways age-appropriate, the programming was broken down, grade by grade, classroom by classroom. The youngest students learned about empathy and honoring one another.

“They are not ready to learn about the terrible side of the Holocaust, but with this project, they know they’re making a commitment to the importance of humanity,” Shulman said. “As they get older, and their education continues, they’re going to understand more and more what their contribution means when they walk past the installation that comes from this.”

The middle- and upper-school students focused on the historical aspects and subsequent social impacts of the Holocaust, and worked with their younger schoolmates to facilitate discussions and butterfly-painting. Shulman said it’s the first time in his tenure that the entire school worked together on a single project. (In the past, lower school students created ceramic butterflies and sent them to other countries.)

Senior Maria Vanbrano led a group of sixth-graders and ninth-graders. “The middle-school kids knew about the Holocaust and they wanted to learn more,” she said. “What I took away from this is that even though this generation won’t speak to Holocaust survivors as they die out, students still have interest in their experiences and are willing to learn more. I feel the stories won’t disappear, they will keep going. I talked to two Holocaust survivors as part of this event ... it’s a day that will stay with me because it has a deep meaning for me. I will remember their stories.”

Sophomore Alice Irvin added: “One of the goals of The Butterfly Project is to introduce these concepts to younger children without scaring them. It’s a part of history that is not fun, but it’s important we acknowledge it. I love that we’re using butterflies as a way to remember children because it’s heartbreaking, but also somehow hopeful for the future.”

Once the ceramic tiles are fired in a kiln, they will be assembled in some kind of installation. Senior Darpa Anireddy is on the committee that will pitch design ideas and carry out the installation. To gather inspiration, members visited the San Diego Jewish Academy (which undertook its own Butterfly Project effort).

“At the Jewish Academy, they installed butterflies on all their benches around campus, and that’s my favorite idea,” Darpa said. “We could liven up our campus that way.”

To give the project continuity, every new class of students and every new faculty member who comes to La Jolla Country Day School will paint a butterfly and contribute to the installation, or lay the groundwork for a future one. Shulman opined: “This is going to be more spectacular than we could have imagined.”

To learn more about The Butterfly Project, visit thebutterflyprojectnow.org

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