Third Grade Interprets 'Freedom'
By: Betty Ommerman
When 20 third-graders at Waverly Park Elementary School in East Rockaway thought about freedom, they pictured the usual American flags and signs bearing such slogans as "United We Stand." But many of them also saw freedom in the everyday joys of their childhood - play and laughter and sports.
Now, after five months of work and help from a couple of parents and some Farmingdale High School students, the 8-year-olds' visions are preserved in a mural titled "What Does Freedom Mean to You?" in the lobby of the elementary school, which is in the Lynbrook district.
The idea for the mural began in September, when third-grade teacher Rachelle Wolosoff met Karen Elefante, an artist and mother of one of her students, Jackie, 8. Elefante wanted to volunteer some of her time with the third-graders, and Wolosoff suggested she follow the district's "A World of Difference" curriculum, which emphasizes freedom.
Wolosoff's students contemplated what freedom meant to them and wrote about the topic. Meanwhile, Elefante and other PTA members bought art materials, and Elefante spent four class periods discussing art techniques and the meaning of freedom.
"The art project meant a lot to me because my mom was like one of the teachers," Jackie said. "We used a lot of paint and brushes and had tons of fun. I feel proud of myself, my mom and my classmates, because we all worked hard to put the project together." Some of the students continued their work during lunch periods.
After art teacher Arlene Langlieb worked with the students on initial sketches, the students used acrylic paint to put their ideas on individual 11-by-14 inch canvases.
Jim Lawler, a woodworking and carpentry teacher at Farmingdale High whose daughter Meaghan is one of the Waverly third-graders, then offered to get some of his students to build and install a frame for the project.
"It was really cool to watch my dad and his students working on the project at my school," said Meaghan, who painted the American flag, a sign reading "United We Stand" and a peace symbol on her canvas. "I didn't realize how much work it took to build and mount the frame."
Jackie's canvas depicted four things: Signs reading "No Child Labor" and "Let Peace Prevail." and the Liberty Bell and an American flag.
Other students depicted ballet slippers, baseball and football-related objects, and soldiers watching over children because they were able to enjoy those things because of freedom.
Lawler and his students spent a month measuring, cutting, drilling and painting the frame red, white and blue. They then carved the title "What Does Freedom Mean to You?" on top.
"It was a difficult task, since we had to hold all the canvases together before putting them within a frame attached to a large piece of plywood," Lawler said. "The lesson incorporated a variety of troubleshooting situations. We actually had to build the frame in pieces." Frame sections and individual canvases were attached to a large piece of plywood backing that was first affixed to the wall. Then plexiglass was added.
Ninth-grader Thomas Maca said, "I was able to use my skills in a real world environment. At the same time, I learned what freedom meant to third-graders."
Tenth-grader John Alves said, "It was great to see all the third-graders so happy to have their work displayed."
Eleventh-grader Chris Edling said he was able to pursue two passions in one project. "I love doing carpentry work," he said. "And I especially like it when I can help someone out."
Lawler added, "Not only can the students' artwork be aesthetically pleasing, it can also be thought-provoking."
As for the freedom mural, which was attached to the lobby wall in January, Wolosoff predicts it will be on display permanently because they secured it firmly in so many spots. "If anyone would try to take it down," she said, "the whole wall would come down."