A school's spin on peace

Education Beat


The pinwheels, placed along the quarter-mile stretch of road leading to the school, were created by Old Mill students as part of a project called Pinwheels for Peace, started by two art teachers in Coconut Creek, Fla.

Those teachers, Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan, designated Wednesday as the day that participants around the country -- and the world -- would plant pinwheels as an art installation supporting world peace. It was the first year of a project that they hope will continue.

"We decided to make a public statement about our feelings on peace, harmony, tolerance, and unity," Ayers wrote in an e-mail. "We came up with the idea of a pinwheel because it is a childhood symbol, reminding us of a time when things were simpler and fun."

On Wednesday, more than 500,000 pinwheels were spinning in more than 1,400 locations worldwide, according to Ayers.

Begun in spring

About a thousand of those pinwheels were spinning in Millersville. Jen Petrin, who teaches art and art history at Old Mill and leads the school's National Art Honor Society, read about the project in an art teachers publication and decided to participate. The project began before school let out in the spring, she said.

Students decorated 18-inch- by-18-inch sheets of paper on both sides, then folded them into pinwheel shapes and affixed them to dowels provided by the technology education department, Petrin said.

Students could be as creative as they wanted when decorating the pinwheels, as long as they stuck to the theme of peace and "as long as it was a positive message and not a negative one," Petrin said.

"We tried to keep it nonpolitical," said Petrin, who has been teaching at Old Mill for four years. She focused on teen violence -- not the war in Iraq -- in her discussions about the project, she said.

"I printed up a whole bunch of statistics that had to do with teen violence, and that's the lesson we tried to present the school with," she said.

A few students submitted designs that were not acceptable, Petrin said, "but that's high school." The vast majority of the submissions were creative and thoughtful, she said.

Junior Anthony Rosado, 15, wrote the word for peace on his pinwheel in eight languages and included symbols such as a dove, a peace sign, and yin-yang.

"I like the idea of promoting peace internationally," he said. "Just in general, I think there's no reason for violence."

Selected designs were laminated before they became pinwheels, and they spun beside the school's entrance sign Wednesday and Thursday.

Summer project

Katie Serlemitsos, 17, a senior, said she worked on her pinwheel for about three hours over the summer and created a design that was half warm oranges and reds, half cool blues and greens. The warm colors, she said, represent happiness, and "the cool ones on the other side are sort of the opposite." A neatly drawn, elegantly dressed couple stands on the warm half.

"I think it was a really cool idea, and Ms. Petrin, she was very inspired when she was talking about it," Katie said. "She really cares about the subject."

Sophomore Maggie Neiss, 15, said she made three or four pinwheels, sometimes working with friends, and worked for about an hour and a half helping install them Tuesday after school.

"I like helping out with it, and I'm really interested in it," she said.

Petrin said the dew had already damaged the pinwheels by Wednesday morning, and they were taken down Thursday after school. Some would be returned to students who wanted them or given to teachers, she said.

The last thing she wanted was for the paper to blow around the neighborhood over the weekend, she said, because upsetting anyone was the opposite of what the project was about.

A schoolwide effort

About 25 students in the art society, open to grades 10 through 12, made the pinwheels, as did students in student government and school clubs. The project was incorporated into some classes, as well, Petrin said. For example, language classes translated sayings about peace, she said, and some teachers assigned the pinwheel project as homework. "So many teachers were really responsive," Petrin said.

Petrin also praised the principal, Kathryn Kubic, but said the students were the ones that made the project so successful.

"We have great kids here," she said. "It's easy to do great things when you have great kids."

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