Eighth-grade students in their English classes at San Jose Middle School created a mural of butterflies for the school through their participation in The Butterfly Project.

Students in Ms. Deborah Baraban, Ms. Anne Schaeffer and Mr. Michael DeNubila’s English classes read Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, and then learned about the Holocaust which included learning about identity and one’s universe of obligation. As part of the project, the classes participated in The Butterfly Project by creating a mural ceramic butterflies around the world representing the 1.5 children who perished in the Holocaust.

Working with The Butterfly Project, a nonprofit raising awareness of the Holocaust through education, art and memorial making, each student received a butterfly which came with a brief biography about a child who died in the Holocaust. The butterflies were hand-glazed by the students, and Sabrina Kalleen, ceramics teacher at Marin School of the Arts at Novato High School, generously kiln-fired them. Teachers Deborah Baraban, Michael DiNubila, Patrick Fahy, and Anne Schaefer installed the butterflies with the intention of adding more in future years.

“The most exciting part for me is seeing students stopping to read the sign, pointing out their butterflies, and discussing the project with their peers and other teachers. The mural is helping to beautify our school and perhaps, more importantly, helping us remember those who suffered,” commented Ms. Baraban.

This assignment is one of many Project Based Learning (PBL) projects occurring at San Jose Middle School and at the Novato Unified School District. Students work on a project over an extended period of time – from a week up to a semester – that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience.

As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. Project Based Learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.

The Butterfly Project is a call to action through education, the arts and memorial making. It uses the lessons of the Holocaust to educate about the dangers of hatred and bigotry and cultivates empathy and social responsibility. Participants paint ceramic butterflies that are permanently displayed as symbols of resilience and hope, with the goal of creating 1.5 million butterflies around the world—one for each child who perished in the Holocaust, and honoring the survivors. To learn more about The Butterfly Project, visit https://thebutterflyprojectnow.org/