Sunday, February 2, 2003
A group of students at Kennedy School could probably teach Aretha Franklin a thing or two about respect.
The Queen of Soul grumbled and growled about wanting respect -- she even spelled it out in her late 1960s hit -- but she never really elaborated on just exactly what respect meant to her.
These fifth- and sixth-graders can do the diva one better.
"It's sharing, caring, doing the right thing, being respectful and having manners," rattled off 12-year-old Calandra Childs.
Childs was putting those principles to practice last week in the school's cafeteria, where she and her classmates cooperated to paint a mural that covers nearly the entire east wall of the otherwise red brick and white cinder block room.
It's called a respect mural. The 35-foot-wide, 12-foot-tall scene is the culmination of months of classroom discussions about diversity, harassment, bullying, respect and understanding facilitated by Rape Victim-Survivor Service's Steps to Respect program. Kennedy is the third school to get a respect mural. The first two were in New York and East Heights schools.
So far, the murals are serving their purpose well. The children have taken ownership of their work. Sixth-grader Josh Durflinger, 12, pointed out that he painted part of the branches, a pair of jeans and a bit of the sky blue background.
"I'm proud," he said. "We put a lot of hard work into this. It's not like it went up overnight. We put a lot of planning into it."
First, the children learned about bully behavior, sexual harassment, ways to react to bullying, and understanding people with differences by role playing, having discussions and watching films and presentations.
Then, a month ago, they split into groups and created posters with pictures and words that made them think of respect. Local artists Scott Garrette and Amy Carlson used the poster to design the mural and draw it on the wall. Then, they mixed the paint and let the kids take over.
"It's been fun," Garrette said. "It's been a little difficult because they are really fast. They're all really motivated and focused. It's fun to listen to what they have to say about it."
The kids weren't always as thrilled about the project as they are now that it's complete.
"At first I didn't like it. I thought it was ugly," 12-year-old Nicole Ingram said. "After we got done painting it, it looks pretty good."
In the mural, children frolic outside amid butterflies and bugs, near a tree that's dropping its leaves. The leaves contain words and phrases like peace, hope, thank you, have patience and include all people. Each child is a different color: brown, green, purple, peach, yellow. A giant banner weaving through the scene reads, "Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much" -- words once spoken by Helen Keller.
"It's a permanent reminder of respectful interaction, kind of a way of affecting a whole school climate," Lauri Hart, RVSS education coordinator, said of the mural. "I like how the characters are so big. The kids can go right up to them."
A few students from Central Junior High School helped the Kennedy students paint the mural, which was finished Thursday.
"It was a mentoring opportunity for the older kids," Hart said.
The budding artists worked quickly last week. They donned painting T-shirts, armed themselves with brushes and, with guidance from Garrette, picked colors from among the dozens mixed in yogurt, butter and cottage cheese containers. Some worked down low; others climbed tall ladders, careful to stay out of each other's way.
One thing the project has taught 11-year-old Farrah Washington: "We can work together."
Mindy Parmer, 13, Central Junior High, is scared of heights and was proud she had summoned the courage to climb a ladder to paint. She likes the mural.
"I went here for elementary," she said, "and it will definitely bring some color to the room."
No doubt about that, Childs agreed: "If you want to be happy, you could just come here and look at it."