With pinwheels, kids plant hopes for peace

Florida teachers' idea spreads worldwide, as program brings art, dialogue to the classroom

September 23, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to the Sun

Pupils at St. Margaret School in Bel Air paraded through the elementary campus to an open field.

Then they placed homemade pinwheels on wooden skewers that earlier had been stuck in the ground, joining about 1.2 million people around the world Friday participating in Pinwheels for Peace.

"We have a school theme of respect and peace," said Betty Hunter, the religion coordinator at the school, as the children fit their pinwheels on the skewers. "We wanted our children to participate in this project so they could do their part to make the world a more peaceful place."

The premise of the program, started in 2005, is to make a pinwheel that has a message about peace on one side and a colorful design on the other. Children planted the pinwheels in the ground Friday, which was the United Nations International Day of Peace.

The project originated when art teachers Ellen McMillan and Ann Ayers wanted to teach a lesson on installation art, a process in which art is arranged in a place by the artist. They called on their students for topic ideas, McMillan said.

"The kids were really concerned with violence ... violence on television, in games and in music," said McMillan, who teaches at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Fla. "We decided to do something to help them find peace within their family, community and themselves."

To get the word out, McMillan and Ayers gave a presentation at the National Arts Education Association Convention and announced that they were piloting the program. Teachers from all 50 states and all over the world have embraced the program, McMillan said.

"It was mind-boggling," said the 20-year teacher. "It just grew and grew and grew."

Hunter heard about the program last spring when she attended the National Catholic Education Convention.

She returned to her school and pitched the idea to the teachers and principal, who embraced it, she said.

To raise awareness and enthusiasm, the faculty and staff at the school made pinwheels and planted them on the first day of school, Hunter said.

"When the children came to school on the first day, they all asked us what the pinwheels were for," said Hunter, who teaches fifth grade.

"They were immediately excited."

And when the time came for the pupils to make pinwheels, Rachel Molloy, 10, said the experience made her happy.

"I think everybody deserves peace," said Rachel, who lives in Forest Hill.

"Whether they are a different color, size or race. ... It doesn't matter. Everyone needs peace in their lives."

The program helps some children realize that peace isn't just about being anti-war, McMillan said.

"Some children write that they are at peace when they are with their family or curled up with a book reading," she said.

And other children write about how they wish the world could be, said Ayers, who has taught for 35 years, the past four at Monarch High.

"Children today see and hear about so much violence," Ayers said.

"They don't agree with the violence, but it is a part of their life. They hope for a better life ... and that is what they express on their pinwheels."

But for Chris Swartz, peace is about acceptance, he said.

"The pinwheels are different colors and they have different designs. In a way, they are just like people," the 10-year-old Bel Air resident said.

"Some people don't like the soldiers being in Iraq, because people are getting killed. But they have to be there to keep us safe, and because all people need peace."

Also at the elementary campus of St. Margaret School, about a dozen students dressed as children from nations such as Ireland, Poland and Japan.

And at St. Margaret's middle school campus, about 266 students placed pinwheels in the ground and formed a large peace sign.

Once the pinwheels were planted, they remained in the field throughout the school day.

St. Margaret will use the pinwheels as decorations for the coming Grandparents Day celebration that will have a theme of "Peace is My Gift To You."

In other places, pinwheels are sent to another program called Pinwheels of Peace, which was started in December 2001 by the sister of a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attack.

"The world peace issue is a special issue for me," Hunter said.

"This project is a wonderful way to help the children connect to the bigger picture ... beyond their community."

Jane Dean, the principal of the school, agreed.

"There is such a need for peace within the family, the community and our world," Dean said as she watched the children planting their pinwheels.

"This is a visual to remind the children that their prayers for peace can help change people, and that they can make a difference. Peace is our hope for their future."

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