By DIANNE REBER HART / Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Creekside High School teacher Walt Williams landed in a bit of hot water recently for his teaching methods – but nothing the longtime educator couldn’t use as a real-life lesson for his students.
Now when someone mentions the First Amendment, Creekside teens will use their teacher as an example.
During a weeklong display mixing public art and social responsibility, Williams overlooked one step in sharing his students’ art – he failed to seek permission for two installments on the grounds of Sonoma Valley High School.
Creekside, an alternative high school within the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, is tucked into a tiny corner of the larger Sonoma Valley High School campus.
Although small, last week Creekside was larger than life as students erected art installments designed for both conversation and controversy.
The school’s three teachers and 40 students worked across the curriculum to present “Better Out Than In – Sonoma,” a take on British street artist and political activist Banksy’s controversial month-long spray art show last fall on the streets of New York City.
Rather than just reading, writing and reciting facts about activism and social responsibility, the students focused on engaging their community.
To make a point about trash and pollution, they stuffed a dozen trash bags with newspapers and piled them on the banks of Nathanson Creek that runs along the rear of the Sonoma Valley High School campus – the spot where Creekside students have collected 1,500 bags of garbage during the past 14 years of weekly creek cleanup efforts.
And across a vacant plot where the Sonoma Valley High School Dragons and community members once swam, towering wooden letters painted blue spelled out “P-O-O-L.”
The pool was filled in back in 2005 when costly repairs were needed, much to the disappointment of many in a town without a public swimming pool. The feasibility of replacing the pool is under consideration.
Although students hoped their daily art installations would remain up throughout the week, Williams’ oversight brought two of them down overnight.
It also brought a phone call from the district superintendent.
“She appreciated my idea but sometimes I get ahead of the ship,” Williams said.
The teacher did get advance permission for several other installments that stayed up for the duration: a Star of David remembering the Holocaust outside a local mortgage company; a large painting of President Barack Obama outside a popular skateboard shop near the high school that questioned First Amendment rights; and a giant-sized replica of the Creekside logo created with chalk outside the school.
By week’s end, Williams was confident the project was a success, even with the inquiry from his boss.
“That’s the whole goal. It’s all a big ol’ lesson,” he said.
“If we’re turning kids on and if people are talking and we’re controversial, then that’s good, too.”
The highlight, Williams said, was getting students involved and letting them know they can reach others and make a difference in their community.
Many of the students who attend Creekside “don’t fit down the narrow pathway” of traditional high schools, Williams said.