Del Mar Heights fights injustice through the art of butterfly making

Del Mar Heights sixth-graders — clockwise from bottom left, Sherrie Antoun, Caitlin Puglisi, Jaspreet Missan, Gokce Boz, Elane Moon and Tommy Merritt — paint butterflies.
Del Mar Heights sixth-graders — clockwise from bottom left, Sherrie Antoun, Caitlin Puglisi, Jaspreet Missan, Gokce Boz, Elane Moon and Tommy Merritt — paint butterflies.

By Marsha Sutton

Senior Education Reporter

Butterflies are about to emerge at Del Mar Heights Elementary School where a months-long project to educate sixth-grade students about the Holocaust is under way.

Stories have been written before about the Butterfly Project begun at the San Diego Jewish Academy five years ago that honors and memorializes the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust.

But what’s unusual about this story is that the butterflies will soon alight at a Del Mar public elementary school, the first large public school installation locally.

Cheryl Price, SDJA Artist in Residence and Butterfly Project founder, said she is thrilled to have Del Mar Heights join the more than 200 butterfly memorials in cities nationwide. “It is very exciting to see what Del Mar Heights Elementary School is doing,” she said.

Price works with co-founder Jan Landau and project coordinator Rebeca Besquin to promote Holocaust education beyond the walls of Carmel Valley’s SDJA.

“At first we were keeping all the butterflies at SDJA,” Price said, noting that students at several other local schools have participated in the project and sent the ceramic butterflies to SDJA. “We changed gears three years ago to invite others to make their own memorials. It is a better way to educate, as the kids see the butterflies each day and remember.”

The ceramic butterflies are shaped from clay, and are then painted, glazed and mounted for display. The Del Mar Heights students’ butterflies will be displayed in the school’s Multi-Use Room.

Price’s goal is “to reach as many children, parents, teachers and Holocaust survivors as we possibly can over the next five years so we can meet our goal of 1.5 million butterflies displayed worldwide in multiple locations,” she said. “No small feat … and every butterfly counts.”

Inspired by the documentary “Paper Clips” and the poem “The Butterfly” written by a child during the Holocaust, the project is called “Zikaron V’tikvah” – Hebrew for remembrance and hope. The project asks participants to “remember the past, act responsibly in the present, and create a more peaceful future.”

Wendy Wardlow, principal of Del Mar Heights, said her students are being taught historical lessons about the millions of people who were killed in the Holocaust. “It’s hard to imagine the numbers. But each one was a precious person; each one was part of a family,” she said. “Butterflies are a sign of new life. By our lives, we can honor theirs.”

Resilient human spirit

Wardlow came upon the Butterfly Project after seeking a meaningful project for her 65 outgoing sixth-graders this year that would expand their horizons and provide them with a richer education beyond the subjects they learn in school. The purpose, she said, is not just to teach about one of the darkest chapters in modern human history, but also to help students understand the need for individuals to speak out against prejudice and injustice, promote tolerance and empathy, and defend democracy.

“I want our students to understand the power and the vulnerability of our democracy,” she said. “They should never take their freedom for granted.”

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