While an American elementary school staple like art class may seem like a basic scholastic offering, a group of students in South Brunswick recently learned just how lucky they are to have such an outlet for self-expression.
Fifth graders at Indian Fields Elementary School recently completed a project to send a mural to an impoverished elementary school in the Philippines after being inspired by the experiences of College of New Jersey student teacher Keri Hamilton, who spent seven weeks teaching at a school near Manila.
"I was living outside of the city in an impoverished area," said Hamilton, who taught several subjects to a class of over 60 students during her time in the Philippines. "So we started brainstorming ideas for how Indian Fields can share something with them that we have and they don't have. The students can't give them money, but we can send them art."
The students were given a look into the lives and hardships of kids at Hamilton's former school via a power point presentation, which left them with the notion that despite the cultural and economic differences between the two schools, the children share many of the same qualities.
"We saw a kid there named C.J. who looks just like a normal kid," said fifth-grader Husain Jamali. "He goes to school, he does work and then he goes home just like us, and he does a lot of funny, silly things."
For Indian Fields art teacher Katina Ewaskiewicz, sharing Hamilton's experiences with her students allowed them to expand the students' worldview and got them to think outside of their own neighborhood.
"We wanted them to see how other children around the world live so they can make that connection," Ewaskiewicz said. "It showed them that their school may not be like ours, but they're still kids just like them. So we started thinking about how Indian Fields students can show that we care."
The Indian Fields students were struck by the things American students take for granted as part of the average school day, which are a luxury in other parts of the world. Fifth-grader Shradha Rajgandhi said the kids hoped to share with the Philippines why art means so much to them.
"Art is so much fun and it's not fair that they don't have it," Shradha said. "We thought it would be a good gift for them since they can't afford it."
Hamilton and Katina Ewaskiewicz decided on a plan to send a mural to the school, and began collecting sketch sheets with ideas from the fifth grade class for the design. About 75 percent of the fifth grade class submitted ideas for the mural, with the chosen main design to be a peace sign with wings submitted by student Samantha Pereira.
"I thought this was creative and cool," Samantha said. "A peace sign is a nice thing that shows we care. The wings I thought were really pretty, because I like angels."
About 25 Indian Fields kids gave up their recess time to come in and work on the project, but the students said the finished product was well worth the effort. Fifth-graders Carly Bansbach, Shubam Wagh, and Rithika Ravula said the mural is a gift that shows how much they care.
"We're proud of this because they don't have anything like it at their school," Carly said. "I think they'll feel happy that we put the time in to do this."
Hamilton said she shared in the students' excitement as she knows what the gift will mean to the students at her former school. Ewaskiewicz noted that the project helps put things into perspective for the Indian Fields kids, as they connect with the fact that not everyone has the same advantages they do.
"It's great to give a gift to people who aren't as fortunate as we are," said fifth-grader Cara Spivak. "They would want to do something like this if they could afford it, so we'll send it to them."
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