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PS 213 takes part in Arts of Peacemaking contest

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When his third-grade class at PS 213 in Bayside was asked to convey through pictures the idea of nonviolence, 8-year-old Desmond knew whose story he should tell.

"This is my father," said Desmond as he pointed to his drawing of two people - one black and one white - in front of a building. In the picture his father, Desmond said, is walking past a school for white kids.

"The white people saw him and the bully picked on him," Desmond said, pointing to the other figure in the picture. "My father cried. I think the bully was very mean."

Desmond, who drew the picture as part of a contest sponsored by the School Mental Health Alliance of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said after he drew the picture that he learned, "It's not right to be prejudiced."

That was exactly what the planners of the Arts of Peacemaking program were looking for. The program includes students from Queens and Long Island, whose artwork will be recognized at a showcase scheduled to take place Wednesday at Queensborough Community College.

Dr. Rona Novick, director of the School Mental Health Alliance, said the program was part of a larger effort by the group to address school violence.

"Today's schools, families and mental health professionals face enormous challenges," Novick said in a statement. "When these individuals and systems work together, they can better address the complex needs of today's youth."

The children in Robin Jacobson's class at PS 213 were the only class in that school who participated in Arts of Peacemaking. Jacobson, who worked with artist Gail Flannery from the non-profit group Studio in a School, praised the event because she said it let the children know that adults value nonviolence.

"It was wonderful," she said. "When we are given the opportunity by LIJ to make it a contest, it's great because the kids think it's important. You've got to start young."

For kids like Desmond the contest was a chance to tell others about what they had learned at home. Desmond's classmates Peter, 8, and Jeffrey, 9, made pictures of imaginary events.

Peter, who drew a picture of a black person and a white person helping each other, said, "I learned that you should help people even if they're a different religion or color."

Jeffrey showed two people whom he said fought because of religious differences.

"We should make peace," Jeffrey said of his drawing. "We shouldn't fight so much."

Jacobson said the contest helped the kids think about what nonviolence means.

"Most of these kids had two sketches that they rejected when we started talking" about prejudice and discrimination, she said. "They were able to dig deeper into what this really means."

Staci Frulla, the school counselor at PS 213, said violence often begins in young children. "They see the physical differences first," she said. "A lot of times that's the reason for the violence."

Jacobson said the contest let her students think and talk about their physical differences. "When you start to understand the differences, you start to accept them."

That proved true for Jacqueline, 9, who decided to use the experiences of a classmate as the subject of her artwork.

The classmate, Gurminderjit, 8, said she did not know much English when she came to America from India. She feared other children would make fun of her.

Jacqueline drew the picture of herself and Gurminderjit about to hug because "she gave me a lot of friendship."

The showcase for the Arts of Peacemaking program is scheduled to be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday. For more information, call 1-877-SMHA.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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