In this flag, `handmade' has unique meaning

Triadelphia Ridge project emphasizes community

October 03, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School art teacher Deborah Bourke drove along Interstate 695 the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, American flags draped on overpasses and bridges gave her an idea.

"I thought I really would like to create something artistic with kids to show a sense of community," she said.

Bourke wanted to fashion something indicating loyalty to the United States without using recent television images. So she was inspired to construct an American flag to drape on the school building for the duration of the school year.

She called Principal Sue Webster at home Sept. 15 to pitch her idea. Webster had heard mental health experts suggest that children should feel as though they were part of the solution after the attacks and gave the green light to begin the project.

Using a 10-by-20-foot blue tarp, roughly 670 pupils and 90 staff members stamped the stars and stripes with their hands using red, white and blue latex exterior house paint. Staffers imprinted the navy blue background area for the stars and then children placed white handprints (stars) over the blue field. (The tarp is a lighter blue.)

According to Bourke, hands are a meaningful tool for children and staff members to share. "The children's hands represent themselves," she said.

To begin the project, Bourke and her husband, Jim, spread the tarp in their garage and then measured and marked where the stripes would go.

On Sept. 17, the tarp was put on the sidewalk in front of the Ellicott City school. Bourke sat the children down and explained that the handprints were symbolic of community. Bourke and a few adult helpers took one class at a time and painted one hand of each pupil, most of whom wore latex gloves. Each child then placed his or her handprint on the tarp to form the stripes.

The logistics of finding spots for nearly 800 handprints could be daunting, but Bourke had it all figured out. The red stripes were done first, leaving space for the white stripes - which were done in the afternoon. They worked from one end to the other, so children could walk off the tarp without stepping on wet paint.

The next day was a school holiday, so on Sept. 19 two children from each of the 24 elementary classes and two kindergartners stamped the 50 stars.

At the end of the week, the entire school and some parents gathered, said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang patriotic songs as Bourke and three other adults unfurled the flag from the roof. Excited children oohed, aahed, cheered and clapped at their creation.

"It was the first time we had met as the whole school since the incident," Webster said last week. "We as a school have an outward way of saying, `We're proud to be an American.'" And it was something the children will remember for years, she added.

"I thought it was neat the school had the spirit of the United States," 9-year-old Matthew Moore said.

Another 9-year-old, Paulina Heisig, said it made her feel good to participate. "It makes the whole school stand out," she said.

Bourke and Webster have received many appreciative comments from parents about the flag. Exclamations of "wow" and "beautiful" are common reactions from those walking by. And parents and children have been posing for pictures in front of the flag, with pupils pointing out the area where they put their handprints, Bourke and Webster said.

"You don't get any more hands-on than that," said PTA President Kathy Rogers. Her son Mason, 4, said they made the flag to show America is still strong.

Bourke looks at the flag each time she approaches the school and is proud because it is visible to the community. It's part of the healing process, she said, to feel connected and support American life.

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