A solemn Lilu Montoya wistfully brushed lime-green paint on butterfly wings on mural panels sprawled on the floor of the Washington Elementary School cafeteria in midtown Sacramento.
The colorful wings are supposed to signify a bright future, but the third-grader wasn't feeling altogether optimistic about her school closing this fall and her transfer to an unfamiliar school.
"The other schools don't have as much art," sighed Lilu, who loves to draw and paint.
Lilu, whose father, aunt and older sister and brother attended Washington, wasn't alone in feeling sad and anxious about the impending shuttering of the school, a neighborhood fixture since 1869.
The school at 18th and E streets is one of seven underenrolled sites being closed by the Sacramento City Unified School District. Officials organized a mural art project to say goodbye to Washington and help families assimilate into new schools.
Generations of Washington families more than 100 students, staff members, alumni, parents and grandparents gathered Sunday to put some positive brush strokes on the closure.
"This is a neighborhood school and there's going to be challenges with its closure," said Principal Richard Dixon. "The mural is a physical representation of bringing the spirit of Washington to the other schools, and gives our students a chance to engage with their new classmates."
Under the direction of Bay Area artist Milton Bowens, students got to help design the mural. Six large panels were painted at Washington; three will follow students to each of their new elementary schools, William Land Park and Theodore Judah.
More panels will be painted and displayed at those schools as a way of bringing the new and the old students together to work on a project, Bowens said.
Kim Williams, a sixth-grade teacher at Washington, collaborated on the project with Bowens, a nationally recognized multimedia artist.
Students were asked to draw images capturing the school's essence, and Bowens incorporated those into a design for the mural. Bowens said common themes of butterflies, dream catchers and recycling emerged.
"These are themes of wings, rebirth, blossoming and capturing dreams," Bowens said.
Zackery Turkins, a third-grader at Washington, said he is sad to know his school will close because it has "sentimental value" to him and his friends.
"But the mural helps the kids going to different schools to fit in, and maybe not be so emotional about leaving," he said, as he painted a dream catcher.
City Council member Steve Hansen, watching the painting Sunday, said the community is worried about the vacant school becoming a magnet for crime.
"We have many hibernating school sites in the city, and they've become major problems," he said.
Hansen also bemoaned the blow of losing Washington, and wants it to reopen as some sort of school in the future.
"This is a terrible loss to the neighborhood," he said. "You can't have a successful city, a successful midtown or downtown without families, and you can't attract families without good schools. We have to bring kids back here as soon as possible."
Sylvia Rincon attended Washington, and all four of her children went to the school, including her youngest, a sixth-grader, and many nephews and nieces.
"This school is a like a part of our family," said Rincon, also an instructional aide at Washington. "It's like our home, and it's like our family is being torn apart. But the mural, it's just like my babies. They need to spread their wings and find a new home."
Call The Bee's Anne Gonzales, (916) 321-1049. Follow her in Twitter @AnneGonzo.