Step through the office of Copper Ridge Elementary School and onto the campus — straight ahead is the night sky glistening over the desert.
Every student, teacher and many parents at the Scottsdale school formed 4,000 clay tiles in the shapes of rain drops and triangles, with the help of artist in residence Helen Helwig, to create a mural honoring the Sonoran Desert.
The second-story mural, 48 feet wide and 7 feet high, faces the office and provides a backdrop for the school’s courtyard, where students performed Friday for the unveiling of the mural.
It is a tribute to the Arizona desert surrounding the school. The mural blends aspects of Arizona deserts — stars, the moon and the sun above hilly lands with desert flora and, naturally, reptiles.
"It’s a good inspiration for the kids, that something that started so small can grow so large," said mother Cindy Hazelwood, who helped coordinate the project. "There’s a lot of detail within the mural. They can count how many lady bugs there are, how many ants. They can look at the trees, the different types of animals we have here in Arizona."
The project began about two months ago as a study of water cycles, but expanded to include the planets — even the recently discovered 10th planet, Sedna.
The 375 students split up the tasks: Third-graders learning about the universe worked on the solar system while fifth-graders learning about desert flora and fauna produced tiles of animal life. Kindergartners made round tiles to form the hillside.
Fourth-grader Dakota Kirton, 10, said it was fun to learn more about the desert, after growing up in South Africa, South Carolina and Michigan.
"There are a lot of different kinds of cactus on the mural," he said. "I think it turned out really great. I also liked the big bat. We actually had one of those living outside of our front door."