In a world where the drums of war seem to beat louder every day, peace seems like a far-off dream.
But at Long Branch Elementary in Liverpool, students made it clear it’s a dream worth reaching for.
Students observed International Day of Peace Monday, Sept. 23 (the actual date was Saturday, Sept. 21), by planting hundreds of pinwheels on the school’s front lawn in the shape of a giant peace sign as part of Pinwheels for Peace, an international art installation project started by two art teachers in Florida. The LBE project was guided by art teacher Jennifer Matott, who learned about the effort from its website, pinwheelsforpeace.com.
“I wanted a community event that everyone, all the students and staff, could participate in,” Matott said. “And being the art teacher, I wanted some kind of public exhibit event. I found [the] website, and the message was that we should all have tolerance and understanding for people with differences.”
The message resonated with Matott and the LBE community, which has a diverse population with a high number of special needs students, so she brought Pinwheels for Peace to the school four years ago. The school joins numerous other groups to take part in the endeavor since its launch in 2005. Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan, of Coconut Creek, Fla., envisioned the project as a way for students to express their feelings about what was going on in the world and in their lives. In the first year, groups in more than 1,325 locations worldwide participated. Last year, more than 4 million pinwheels were spinning around the world, including the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Each year, using a template provided by pinwheelsforpeace.com, Matott prints pinwheels for her students to customize. One side of each student’s pinwheel features that student’s thoughts on peace — living peacefully with others, war and peace, tolerance, etc. On the other side, each student used art to visually express the concept.
“They design the pinwheels, so each pinwheel is different,” Matott said. “Each one puts what they think is peaceful on there, whether it’s their favorite colors or their images of peace or words of peace, so it helps them to connect what peace is to themselves and to others in their school.”
The pinwheels were then attached to sticks in preparation for planting in the school’s front lawn. Students marched around the school carrying their artwork, then planted their pinwheels in the shape of a peace sign on the school’s front lawn Monday afternoon. Both Matott and LBE Principal Robert McCrone talked to the assembled children about the importance of the day.
“Peace is the same as getting along with people, kindness, understanding, using our words to figure out problems,” Principal Bob McCrone told the students. “That’s all part of peace, and that’s a lot of what we do at Long Branch. Putting your pinwheel in there shows you understand that.”
“Everybody’s peace is something different,” Matott said. “We’re going to take just a minute to think about what peace means to you. Look around you and see all the different colors, all the different faces, all the different smiles, all the different people — we make up Long Branch Elementary.”
Matott said she was hopeful that the pinwheels would carry that message of peace and tolerance beyond the school itself.
“I think it does bring awareness to other people when they see the pinwheels out in front of the school. It just makes us pause and think about it,” she said. “Children are the quintessential symbol of joy, and they should be. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
For more information about Pinwheels for Peace, visit pinwheelsforpeace.com.
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.