The ceremony opened with a rendition of Bob Marley’s “One Love,” sung by a group of elementary students at Thomas Mifflin on Wednesday morning.
It was a peaceful celebration of sorts at the East Falls school for the official unveiling of the quilt created by students to represent anti-violence efforts at the school.
The quilt will be on display at the school’s front entrance on Conrad Street.
Teacher Stacey DelBuono says it’s something that should be appreciated every day.
“Don’t just hurry by the quilt,” said DelBuono, “stop and think about all of the effort that went into it and the people that made it possible.”
Leslie Mason, principal at Mifflin, says she was thrilled with the outcome of the project and the efforts from the staff and volunteers involved.
“At a time when we are losing art and music programs in our schools this is a wonderful project for us to be a part of,” said Mason. “This quilt represents so many things.”
A message of peace
Before making the quilt, students participated in two months of lessons on violence prevention and worked with leaders from The Peaceful Posse, a Philadelphia peer-group mentoring program which teaches students how to build social and emotional skills.
As part of The Peaceful Posse, the school’s art teacher, Vanessa Marshall, instructed students to participate in journal writing exercises to express their feelings and brainstorm quilt designs. She says working with the project is close to her heart because she sees a need for more anti-violence work in the city.
The quilt features peaceful images and words such as ‘writing,’ ‘drawing’ and ‘dancing’ to represent activities that put the students at ease.
Milan Holly-Meyers, a sixth grader at Mifflin, says she learned that peace can be found in everyday life.
“Things like sleeping, cuddling next to a warm blanket, flowers and the Yin and the Yang all represent peace,” said Holly-Meyers. “These images make you feel calm and relaxed.”
Sixth grader Torey Smith said she learned coping skills for controlling anger from The Peaceful Posse lessons.
“They helped us with handling our anger by teaching us self-control, anger techniques, and how some things are not worth getting angry about,” said Smith.
Another sixth grader, Sierra Hunter, spoke fondly of The Peaceful Posse group leaders.
“[They] are kind…they help children learn about themselves and look toward the future,” said Hunter.
Volunteers pitch in
Many volunteers helped to make the quilt project a reality including members of the East Falls Community Council (EFCC), Philadelphia University, the Physicians for Social Responsibility’s “Peaceful Posse” and the Public Citizens for Children and Youth’s (PCCY) “Picasso Project.”
Tom Sauerman, President of the East Falls Community Council, discovered the school arts grant opportunity through PCCY, an advocacy group for children.
As part of PCCY’s “Picasso Project,” the school received $4,500 out of 13 available grants. Gretchen Elise Walker, representative from PCCY, says the group’s efforts include keeping art and music alive in Philadelphia public schools.
“We have to keep speaking up about how important the arts are in education,” said Walker.
EFCC volunteers helped students to create individual quilt block designs. One volunteer, Rita Hughes, is a machine quilter who put together the quilt blocks for the final piece.
“I think it’s important for them to learn how to resolve things peacefully,” said Hughes. “They have even considered how animals would react to violence – one child described how a turtle would react in a peaceful way.”
Volunteer Caroline Davidson says the project teaches kids to learn from each other and to be more considerate of one another with a “walk a mile in their shoes” mindset.
Collaborating with Philadelphia University
Wendelyn Anderson, technical associate at Philadelphia University, helped to coordinate the project. As part of her efforts, she scheduled the students to tour the school’s textile design facilities including the fashion, media and engineering departments.
Anderson says the project was possible because of collaboration. She says she loves working with children, especially when it comes to creative projects.
“The kids naturally responded to the project,” said Anderson, “you just have to be flexible – and let them be creative and work in their own way.”
The students were further connected to the quilt project because Anderson taught them to sew pillows and banners with their imprinted designs to take home.
Anderson says she hopes to start a mentorship program between the two schools to encourage creative art projects and help with college and career opportunities.