Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 7, 2014

Mrs. Firpo's garden

Artists create whimsical wall for kindergarten at Alisal

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Spring has come early outside the kindergarten at Alisal Elementary School as the wall blossoms with good-natured wildlife and happy-faced flowers. The whimsical addition to the class garden was created by two artists, Patti Balch and Laurie Nowak, who is the grandmother of kindergartner Thoren Bostrom.

Nowak is a docent at Camp Arroyo in Livermore, said kindergarten teacher Melinda Firpo, where she volunteers her time to help the campers and to work in its garden.

"She also takes care of her grandson and picks him up from school, and she saw I had a garden and wanted to help the kids with it," Firpo said. "She spent endless hours helping us plant seeds and building cages to keep the birds out."

"After we got the garden done, she had the idea of doing something with this ugly peach-colored wall," Firpo added. "I said I'd always wanted to do a mural back here."

Both Firpo and Nowak were captivated by the book "Mrs. Spitzer's Garden," written by Edith Pattou and illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

"The author wrote the story in honor of her daughter's kindergarten teacher, who gets a packet of 'seeds' from her principal every September, plants them, nurtures and tends to them, and watches them bloom and grow," Firpo explained. "It's a delightful story with whimsical illustrations."

Inspired, Nowak enlisted the help of friend Balch, solicited contributions of paint and supplies from Kelly-Moore Paints, and went to work.

"They painted from 8 in the morning until 5 at night," Firpo recalled. "I went and got them lunches and Starbucks. They did it all out of the good of their hearts."

The children love the new garden artwork, especially the fanciful frog, Firpo said. As a matter of fact, everyone on campus is enjoying it.

"The whole staff sees it as they walk into the staff room," Firpo said, "and they've said they can't help but be happy. It's such an adorable part of our school now -- the beauty of the garden and the whimsicalness of it."

Nowak continues to use her gardening talents at Alisal.

"Every once in a while, I will open the door and she's out there making sure the garden is beautiful," Firpo said.

Firpo is impressed that these two artists donated their talents to give back to the school. She said it teaches an important lesson: "You can always make an impact in the schools, even if you're a grandparent."

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