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The City Journals

Peace through pinwheels

Oct 31, 2016 11:39AM ● By Julie Slama

Midvale Middle School students put out pinwheels with messages of peace as part of the international Pinwheels for Peace program. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Midvale, Utah - Eleven years ago, an idea was born — Pinwheels for Peace — as part of a high school project where art teachers wanted their students to have a way to express their feelings about what was going on in the world and in their lives.

Tying it into International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, more than four million pinwheels in 3,500 worldwide locations were displayed at schools, museums, and public places as a public statement and art exhibit about wanting peace.

Eleven years ago, many Midvale Middle School’s sixth-graders were born, but this may be their first opportunity to participate in the Pinwheels for Peace program. However, Midvale Middle, the only school in Utah to participate in the program this year, has been participating for six years, said Shelley Allen, Midvale Middle School Middle Years program coordinator.

“I was looking for ways to connect our IB (International Baccalaureate, which includes Midvale’s Middle Years Program) program into an opportunity for a global perspective and stumbled onto the Pinwheels for Peace webpage,” Allen said. “It seemed like a simple, easy thing kids can do and we can tie into our inquiry cycle by writing, ‘how can I help make the world more peaceful?’ or answering ‘can one person’s actions actually create peace?’ It gives all of our 850 students a chance to participate.”

After students made the pinwheels and wrote messages of how they can be more aware of other people’s cultures and perspectives, share happiness and offer to help others and hope it has a ripple effect, students dotted the front yard of the school with pinwheels.

“We had some great discussions from it and it helped empower the students to realize that they could make a difference,” Allen said.

Allen said that through the years, she has received positive feedback from the display, which is a non-political project.

“It’s a good visual reminder that we want a peaceful world. It doesn’t have to be associated with conflict or war, but it could be wanting more peace in our lives and to have more peace of mind. While each student makes only one, together it shows our unity in how many pinwheels there are. It’s a pretty powerful impact,” she said.

Allen said as part of the International Baccalaureate model, students are encouraged to perform acts of service each month to match each month’s theme or character trait. In September, the theme is caring.

Last year, students participated in the Global Youth Service Day by raising awareness of students needing classrooms in Syria. Through another opportunity to create pinwheels, the school created more of the childhood symbol. 

“For each pinwheel, $2 to up to $400,000 was donated through the Bezos Family Foundation to help those kids. It was a powerful lesson to our students that something as simple as caring to make a pinwheel can help another student have the opportunity to learn,” she said.

This year, Allen hopes to place even more emphasis on service and empowering Midvale Middle students.

“We plan to have service competitions between the grades to see how many acts of service they can perform during each month and award gold, silver and bronze levels like in the Olympics. We want to structure it off our theme each month and encourage them to go above and beyond and to reach out to others,” Allen said.