Students at Chestnut Hill Elementary School planted a garden on Wednesday, May 2, but it wasn’t a traditional garden.
Instead of vegetables or flowers, the kids planted 400 pinwheels.
The pinwheels were planted on the school’s front lawn as part of a fundraiser the school conducted for the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center throughout the month of April. The Character Education Committee, advised by school counselor Christine Shea, and the Snack Shack Committee, led by special education teacher Susan McDonald, raised $400 for the organization, which opened its doors to a totally renovated 30,000-square-foot building, the former Reid Hall (former location of Syracuse University’s University College) at 601 East Genesee St. in June 2011.
“We have our Character Ed Committee that meets every month, and we do several different activities,” Shea said. “We’ve done cards for soldiers in Afghanistan. We did cards to children at Golisano Children’s Hospital. We do cards for the nursing home patients and placemats at Thanksgiving time. Every month, we try to do a different activity.”
Shea said the school received a letter from Julie Cecile, executive director of McMahon/Ryan, about the center’s fundraising efforts and the pinwheel garden, and it sounded like a good undertaking for the kids. Working with the Snack Shack Committee, which sells snacks to staff members and donates its profits, to a worthy cause, the Character Ed Committee took on the pinwheel garden project.
“I recently toured McMahon/Ryan’s new facility with all the other school psychologists, and just thought, what an excellent facility and such a great place,” Shea said. “And of course, at the schools, we’re all about keeping the kids safe, and McMahon-Ryan is certainly a group that does that.”
For each dollar raised, the school planted one pinwheel on its front lawn. The goal of the pinwheels, Cecile said, is to raise awareness of child abuse with a happy symbol of childhood.
“It’s a positive representation of child abuse,” she said. “What it represents is the adults that are in our community that are willing to say, ‘Kids deserve a happy, healthy childhood.’ We need to know the signs and symptoms of abuse and really report it.”
Cecile explained the symbolism in more euphemistic terms to the kindergarteners through sixth-graders at CHE Wednesday.
“Don’t you think every girl and boy should smile, be happy, be safe, be healthy and be excited?” she said “That’s what our pinwheels represent — little kids and big kids so that they can be happy and healthy in their home and in their community, and McMahon/Ryan tries to do that. We have some great people in our building that do that work. We have police officers, doctors and nurses, advocates, mental health providers, and they help all the kids in Onondaga County just like you every single day.”
The facility is meant to house all possible resources for victims of abuse in order to make the experience of investigating incidences of abuse as easy on them as possible.
“It is a place where kids can go to be interviewed by the police in a safe environment where they’re not dragged into the police station, so it’s a really comforting environment for kids,” said CHE Principal Martha O’Leary. “It’s so awkward to have to come and be interviewed by the police or even social services, and that’s a place where kids can feel safe and comfortable, and parents, as well.”
O’Leary said that the Liverpool Central School District routinely refers cases of suspected abuse to McMahon/Ryan.
That’s something Cecile wants people to understand — child abuse does happen here.
“I want people to know that, one, child abuse actually happens in our community, and two, there are resources if somebody sees it in the community that can help that child and that family,” she said. “Our advocacy center is really made up of a multidisciplinary team, and it’s a team approach of professionals that handle these cases on a daily basis.”
The advocacy center, the only one of its kind in Onondaga County, brings all essential services and supports for abused children to one safe, child-friendly location. According to McMahon/Ryan’s website, mcmahonryan.org, the center “ensures non-threatening, child-focused environment for interviews with the child victim with rapid and efficient access to a full range of services, while maximizing communication and coordination among numerous law enforcement and treatment providers.”
If other organizations would like to learn more about McMahon/Ryan, Cecile said they can call or reach our via the website.
“We can connect them with someone that can go out and speak to their organization or to do something like [the pinwheel garden],” she said.
O’Leary, meanwhile, is very proud of the work her students have done.
“This is a great character education activity,” she said. “I think [the garden is] beautiful. I think it’s great. I really didn’t know what the significance was of the pinwheels and why they did it, but I thought Julie’s explanation was great: they make you happy.”
In addition, the garden illustrates May’s character education trait of responsibility very well.
“It’s responsibility for our community,” O’Leary said. “We’re making a donation to a community organization that helps children, and that shows responsibility. We all take responsibility in our community.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.