Fair Oaks Community students honor moms with mural

REDWOOD CITY (KTVU) -- As Mother's Day approaches, an elementary school on the Peninsula has found a creative way to honor moms by using paint, paintbrushes and their own creative flair.

Students at Fair Oaks Community School are painting a mural on the wall of a school library. Colorful hearts, flowers and vibrant hand prints are symbols the students hope will honor their mothers – on her special day and into the future.

The school serves the immigrant community in a low-income neighborhood and most of the 300 students are English learners.

"Mothers are a big part of this community so that was how we started it," artist-in-residence Gregory Burns said as he guided 22 kids through the creative process. "It morphed from a certain mother to another mother to another mother," smiled Burns, as he described the evolution of the project. 

Fifth and sixth graders are participating and the oldest ones will be moving on to middle school next year.

"I don't want to leave the campus without a memory that I was here," student Roberto Lainez said, pointing to a portrait he painted of a woman holding a baby.

That's my mother with me when I was little," Roberto said shyly. 

He has been in Redwood City only two years, arriving after a long separation from his mom, who worked and saved to bring him here. Roberto hopes to keep painting.  "In Salvador I didn't have these types of opportunities like here," he said.

 Artist Burns monitors as the students collaborate on the mural.

"Take your time, there's no rush, no rush," he admonishes at one point. 

"Good, beautiful, you've done this before," he tells one student as she carefully presses a paint-covered palm onto the stucco.  

But these children haven't done anything like this before. 

"This school is the smallest in the district and it's the poorest in the district," coordinator Angie Ibarra said. "But Gregory came in with a story for them that included challenges and heartbreak and hardship." 

 Burns is not only a painter and world traveler, he is a paraplegic, and an athlete with multiple medals from the Paralympic Games. 

Seeing what he has accomplished, despite crutches, was an inspiration to the kids.

"They were lifted up when they heard him say 'like me, you can do this too!'" shared Ibarra, who runs the non-profit Generations United. 

"They heard that, and they walked away feeling empowered." 

Burns joked that coaching the children was easier than teaching adults. 

"Don't be afraid to try to new things and don't underestimate yourself," he advised. "This is a great chance for them to do something different, creative and hands-on, and realize I did that!" 

The costs of the project: the artist and supplies were provided by local tech company named Equinix. And a handful of the company’s workers ditched their desk jobs to help out, too.  

"I think a lot of people are busy in their day job and get caught up in it, but there's a whole other world happening outside of work," said Bekki Early, a volunteer at the school who is a program manager at the data center company. "It’s about putting yourself into an experience that's different, right? And the adults need it as much as the kids do really!"

The team will finish the mural on Friday and unveil it for their moms next week.

 Children will also get help making Mother’s Day cards, and receive an art kit to take home, so they can keep the creativity flowing. 

"Their little brothers and sisters are watching them do this mural, and going home and talking about this mural," said coordinator Ibarra. "And they have the satisfaction of leaving beauty on their campus, and their hand print on this school."

KTVU reporter Debora Villalon contributed to this report.