Children make pinwheels for peace at Howard school

Ten-year-old Nathan Smith came up with an acronym for peace: "Peace Encourages A Conflict to End." Before folding his sheet of colored paper into a pinwheel, Aubrey Thornton, 9, filled it with hearts, peace symbols and an array of colors. Alayna Munoz, 9, penned that people should care for each other and be peaceful like egrets, adding that in spelling the name of the milky-white bird, "I had trouble on the last 'e.'"

The three students and others at Forest Ridge Elementary School in Laurel had no trouble participating in Tuesday's Pinwheels for Peace, a worldwide project where children craft images and messages about peace, then fold their papers into twirly objects and plant them in the ground as part of International Day of Peace.

Forest Ridge Elementary, which takes part in the activity every other year, was among several venues in the area that held the activity. Others in Howard County that pledged to take part included Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School in Ellicott City and New Hope Lutheran Church in Columbia.

According to the project website, Florida-based Pinwheels for Peace was started in 2005 by art instructors Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan, who teach at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Fla. The teachers urged their students to convey feelings about the world and their own lives.

There were a half-million pinwheels planted in 2005; last year's tally was an all-time high of 3 million. It coincides with the International Day of Peace, which the United Nations established in 1981 as a global call for cease-fire and nonviolence, according to its website.

Forest Ridge Elementary art teacher Jeni Schoemaker orchestrates the school's Pinwheels for Peace and said that the event has become so popular that it brings together the community, with parents and grandparents helping to assemble the pinwheels. Each student crafted images and writings for the pinwheels.

The 700 students at the school spent all day Tuesday taking turns planting their pinwheels in the ground, mostly at the school's entrance surrounding a flag pole. The area was cordoned off by colorful construction cones. Many pinwheels were decorated with chalk and some included drawings of American flags and doves.

Among the last classes to plant their pinwheels was a first-grade group that emerged from the building flashing peace signs and chanting, "Peace! Peace!" as they marched single file to an open patch of ground.

Teachers said the students embraced the idea of expressing peace in their own ways.

"We have the students find what peace looks like to them, whether it was a peaceful place they could be or a peaceful time in their life or a peaceful picture they've seen," said fourth-grade teacher Julie Eugenio. "Then we showed a lot of pictures of what peace might look like across the country, across the world and basically peace could basically mean anything to anyone. And we wanted them to write a poem in some form of what peace means to them, peace in family, peace in the world, peace at home."

Schoemaker said that the activity is in many ways an extension of what the school and its teachers practice year-round.

"Everything is sign language at our school. The peace sign goes up when they want the class to be quiet and be respectful," said Schoemaker. "Most of us have that symbol in our room somewhere."

Alayna said she has "tons of stuff" in her home with peace signs attached. And Ishmal Hussain, 9, was among students who expressed themselves with poetry and rhyme: "Peace is to be loved and to love, just like peace symbolizes a dove."

Schoemaker said that on this day, middle school students that she once taught in elementary school approach her and recall their experience taking part in Pinwheels for Peace. The students learn much about what they can do to promote peace, she said.

"I think from an art teacher's perspective, I want them to realize they don't need to speak to be able to express something to make a change," Schoemaker said. "I guess looking at them as my students, I think I just want them to know that one person can make a difference."

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