The Shanel Valley Academy Singing Tree of Community and Culture
Shanél Valley Academy (SVA) Singing Tree of Community and Culture is a peace-building-through-art project that commemorates the re-opening of a beloved community school. Our Singing Tree project honors the re-naming of the school after the principal local indigenous village of Shanél, which acknowledges with honor the Sho-Ka-Wah and Hopland People on this traditional ancestral and un-ceded land.
When the former school closed 10 years ago, students suddenly were bussed to various schools in the region, some of which were more than an hour’s drive away. An important place for learning, teaching and gathering for this small community of 900 people (now known as Hopland) was lost.
With the re-opening of the school as a free public charter school after a determined community effort, a generation of students who had never gone to school together now came together daily to learn, to play, to ride bikes together and to grow into community leaders. The school's STEAM-based, project-based curriculum, designed to educate the whole child in a culturally supportive environment, was developed in partnership with the Hopland Band of Central Pomo Indians whose children make up 35% of the school population.
The mural’s Lead Design Team was made up of 4th, 5th and 6th graders who worked alongside Singing Tree Facilitators Leslie Rein and Diana Sciarretta. In crafting a theme for the project, the Design Team emphasized the intimacy of their new school compared to the huge schools they had been forced to attend previously, the benefits of being home and going to school where they live. They honored the oak trees, the apple and pear trees, and the nearby river, all in the shadow of Duncan’s Peak, the sacred traditional mountain which stands within view of the school buildings.
Ramón Billy Jr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Hopland Tribal Council, gave teachings about the importance of the Valley Oak Tree, with its acorns and oak balls; the Sedge Bush, its roots used in making baskets, Feliz Creek, the river that runs through the valley, and the tule elk. All must be cared for.
With the help of every student in every grade, all the staff, community volunteers and many parents, the Lead Design Team painted a Singing Tree mural measuring 14 feet high by 24 feet long on a wall in the school’s main breezeway. They glued hundreds of leaves to its branches. Each leaf shows the unique beauty and sensibilities of the person who shaped and colored it.
Every day the entire SVA community passes through the joyously painted breezeway. On weekends other members of the Hopland community pass through the breezeway on their way to the school’s basketball hoops and playground. The Singing Tree of Community and Culture expresses the preciousness of local, deeply rooted relationships and forward-thinking creativity.
“The greatest thing [that went well with the project] was the deep sense of community that developed as we went along. … I saw kids working together who don’t normally choose to be together, and I saw so much kindness.” - Leslie Barkley, 5th and 6th grade teacher
“Doing a project together is actually cooler than I thought it would be.” - Lee, student
“I’m proud of what we accomplished. It’s amazing.” - Logan, student
Leslie Rein and Diana Sciarretta