“Love is beautiful. Hate is ugly.”
This simple yet powerful statement from Alayna Frangella, a second grader at Homewood’s Willow School, has been incorporated into a PEACE poster created by Michigan artist Wendy Halperin.
It is one of several dozen sayings on peace the children have given Halperin over the past 15 months that she has been in Patty Jo Boehm’s second grade class teaching peace through her “By Heart Peace Project.”
Halperin, a children’s book illustrator by profession, has created 30 beautifully designed books. Her latest is “Peace.” Boehm had her students recite the book’s text for the 2014 International Day of Peace program at school.
Halperin was working with kindergarteners at Willow School on a fine motor skills project. When she learned of Boehm’s interest in teaching peace, they teamed up using the 25 minutes Halperin had to spare once a week.
The results at the end of the first school year were amazing. The children were repeating positive messages and they learned about Nobel Peace Prize winners and their actions.
At the end of a recent class, students huddle around Halperin anxious to share their thoughts with her.
“We don’t join against. We join together,” says Lilli Hardy.
“Don’t do anything bad because if you do people will copy you,” Tony Ayorinae tells her.
“Together we can do so much more than alone,” repeats Kira Howard.
Halperin shows her excitement to the children congratulating them on their efforts.
“We’re inspiring them to write. That means they’re taking this to heart,” she says.
Children get step-by-step drawing lessons from Halperin. Using a document camera, she shows students how to draw a mouse, a fish, a bee; whatever relates to the topic of the day.
She talks about the saying she’s given them as she explains each drawing step encouraging the second graders to follow along. They each have a box of crayons and Halperin will suggest the colors to use as they fill in their drawing. The saying is written on the bottom half of the page.
Each week’s creation will go into the child’s folder. At the end of the year the pages of drawings and sayings will be turned into a book each child will take home.
Halperin’s motive is to give children ideas through drawing and words that can stimulate them into positive thoughts and actions.
She has shared quotes such as:
“Peace begins with a smile” from Mother Theresa.
“What you do not want done to you, do not do to others” from Confucius.
“Hate is like the cut, Love is like the Band-Aid” from Will Lambert, a second grader.
“We study wars in this country: how wars started, what were the weapons. We don’t study peace,” Halperin said.
She takes to heart the quote “Do something wonderful, people may imitate it” believing her lessons on peace will be imitated and internalized by the children now and hopefully as they grow into adulthood.
“Peace I learned very well. It’s a very difficult subject to talk about with adults,” Halperin said. “They’re going to tell you why peace isn’t possible. ‘They did this and they did that.’ But children don’t have that. They’re actually like sponges and they’re actually starving for peace in a world that’s so violent.”
“I don’t think there are many second graders who can tell you about the Salt Wars in India, or Nelson Mandella’s imprisonment,” Boehm said. “We’ve studied them through the Peace Project. We’ve read about them in our literature class and talked about their work in humanities lessons.”
“Parents love it,” Boehm says of the Peace Project. “In parent-teacher conferences I pull out the peace quotes their child has done and they are really surprised when I show them what they’re doing.”
She also has found herself using the Peace Project to deal with discipline or friendship issues. She’ll repeat the first half of a phrase, and the children will repeat the second half.
Boehm says it is a “much more concrete way” to teach the principles of loving your neighbor and building cooperative relationships.