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Students explore San Diego's hidden history through research and sculpture

History is a standard high school subject, but some students have been learning about forgotten San Diego history and then turning it into artwork.

Seniors from Jacobs High Tech High School in Point Loma shared their fall semester final projects in a pop-up public exhibition at several locations around the county Tuesday.

Kate Pfister, 17, Denise Alvarez, 17, and Giovanni Gonzalez, 18, are in the same history class and worked together in researching and uncovering a hidden Mission Hills cemetery.

M.G. Perez
Kate Pfister, 17, Denise Alvarez, 17, and Giovanni Gonzalez, 18 are seniors at Jacobs High Tech High School. They worked together on a history and art project uncovering a historic cemetery beneath Pioneer Park in Mission Hills, San Diego, Calif., December 13, 2022.

Gravestones from the late 1800s give a clue to what is underneath the popular Pioneer Park with scenic views of downtown San Diego.

“There were some laws passed that determined if a cemetery was deemed abandoned it could be converted into a park or another community space,” Pfister said.

In their research, the trio discovered the park property was once a Catholic cemetery and the final resting place for more than a thousand people. Decades ago, it was converted to include a playground and picnic areas.

Once they had the history down, they were instructed to create a sculpture to visualize it. The playground was a focal point for the artwork.


“It’s one of the more notable aspects of the park. It's something you’ll notice more because children play on it,” said Gonzalez, “and even though it’s a little morbid, it’s still a fact that there are bodies beneath this entire park.”

Not far away, at the busy intersection of 4th Avenue and University in Hillcrest, three other High Tech High students showed off their history and art project. It visualized a harsh reality.

“The sculpture is a smaller rundown building being crushed by a bigger, modern one,” said senior Jaden Groom, 18.

“The LGBTQ community in Hillcrest is actually being pushed out due to gentrification. They’re the ones who created the charm in Hillcrest and that unique welcoming atmosphere,” said Paloma Martinez, 18.

High Tech High seniors Serena Fodor, 17, and Santana Linn-Suarez, 17, displayed their project near the splashing fountain in Balboa Park. They created a sculpture in glossy glazed clay with tents, a house and the Greek goddess of home and hearth, Hestia, looking on.

Fodor said, “One of her sides is broken and the other has the flame. The broken side represents the homeless while the other side is just people living normal everyday life.”

That paradox hit close to home for both students during their research.

“San Diego is supposed to be America’s Finest City. But in reality, just walking downtown you see what’s really going on. People living on the streets, and even babies being out there,” said Linn-Suarez.

M.G. Perez
A sculpture featuring tents for the homeless alongside a new home and the Greek God of home and hearth, Hestia. Artwork created by Serena Fodor, 17, and Santana Linn-Suarez, 17 who are seniors at Jacobs High Tech High, San Diego, Calif., Dec.13, 2022.