On Their Knees for Peace

On Their Knees for Peace

Woodlawn students hit the sidewalk to imagine world peace with chalk.

Arturo Hill wants to be an architect. “I usually draw apartments,” he said. “I’m a good apartment-drawer.” But on Friday, Arturo, 11 years old and in sixth grade at Woodlawn Elementary, was putting his drafting skills to a less technical use. He knelt on one of the school’s sidewalks, using chunks of colored chalk to fill in an orange sun that floated below a yellow peace symbol embellished with white wings and a halo, complementing the full-figured angel who reached out to it with her pink arm as she floated above the northern hemisphere of an earth ringed by stick-figure children holding hands. “I’m gonna write something in the middle, like ‘World Peace,’” Arturo added. With the school day nearly over, he and his classmates were filling in just about the last unmarked concrete surface on the school’s property. Every student at Woodlawn, more than 450, had spent a period outside, expressing his or her vision of peace.

“The peace symbol represents the world making peace,” Arturo said. “No matter what happens, the world makes a change. That’s what people need to know. It’s not about terrorism and stuff. It’s about people getting along. That’s what I think about it.”

ART TEACHER and therapist Marielle Mariano organized the students to participate in “Chalk 4 Peace Day,” held last weekend. Thousands of children and adults from all over the country and other parts of the world had the chance to give their understanding of peace a face, a symbol, a landscape or a word. “The kids have been wonderful,” Mariano said. “Kids that have a hard time staying on task have focused and cooperated.” She described seeing hundreds of students tip-toe around the artwork as they poured down the sidewalks during a fire drill.

Anthony Virgil, also 11 and in sixth grade, drew a brown arm reaching from outside the frame of the sidewalk square to hold the earth in its hand. Above it Anthony had written, “Remembering 9-11” and “Be Free.”

“I thought somebody showing the world would be a cool thing,” he explained.

Rose Marie Ferreri, the boys’ teacher, described their work as part of “a colorful depiction of what the Woodlawn students think our futures should look like.”

“We’re trying to instill ideas with our children about how they should live their lives,” said principal Stephanie Bisson. “Respect and peace and the idea that if we all learned to have more respect for one another, perhaps we would have more peace in the world.” She praised the students’ courtesy towards one another and willingness to share. “That was part of the goal,” she said, “to get the year started on a note of cooperation, peace and working together.”

ON SATURDAY, Mariano brought the school’s student council to a larger Chalk 4 Peace event held at Martin Luther King Library in D.C. The global Chalk 4 Peace project was organized by John Aaron, the director of the Museum of Modern Arf, in Clarendon, who sent out thousands of flyers and individualized emails to encourage participation. He said that he’d been organizing chalk-painting festivals for the D.C. and Arlington Arts Commissions, and the idea to expand the project and give it an ethical focus had sprung from those experiences. “All over the world we called for a global chalk-painting festival to happen,” he said, estimating that tens of thousands of people participated. He said several thousand people showed up in at D.C. and Arlington events over the weekend, and thousands more came to projects in places like Cape Town, London, Tacoma, Boulder and all over California. “Kids of all ages were drawing,” he said. “Parents were right down there with their kids. It was really an amazing thing to see.”

And he added that even amidst this mass enthusiasm, the Woodlawn students stood out. “Those folks were so cool. The student council of Woodlawn showed up at MLK on Saturday and they just painted the plaza full tilt.” Several Woodlawn students even won awards for their peace paintings. “They were just total champions,” Aaron said. “They’re my new favorite school.”