By IAN TULLY
---- — PERU — Decorated pinwheels of all shapes, sizes and colors whirled in unison in front of Peru High School and AuSable Valley Central School.
And the children who made them walked peacefully around each others’ handiwork.
Pinwheels for Peace is an international project meant to encourage students, teachers and communities to promote peace through the creation of a pinwheel garden.
Tracey Laundry, an art teacher who has taught at all levels of the district over the past 10 years, and former coworker Jennifer Winternitz brought it to Peru Central in 2007.
Winternitz now teaches at AuSable Valley Middle High School, where she introduced the tradition of flying pinwheels for the first time this year.
“Every year, more people participate," Laundry said. "I have teachers bringing classes from all the schools.”
She sent out an email to the entire faculty in the first week of school, and enthusiasm grew from there.
Laundry estimated that in the school’s first attempt at “Whirled Peace,” 100 participants wrote their feelings about peace on one side of their pinwheels and decorated the other.
This year, more than 500 pinwheels were set up for this year's event.
The project was started in 2005 by Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan in Coconut Creek, Fla. According to the group’s website, pinwheelsforpeace.com, it has grown steadily from 500,000 pinwheels in its first year to more than 4 million in 2011.
An email from co-creator Ann Ayers said Peru Central School was one of 192 participating locations in New York state, with another 3,177 registered in the United States.
There are also 4,300 registered locations throughout the world, including sites in Dubai, Israel, Vietnam, China, Russia and Pakistan.
All grades participated in the event in Peru, and class by class, teachers led their students to the impromptu art exhibit on the lawn along School Street across from Holden Avenue.
Daniel VanNederynen, who teaches social studies to seventh- and eighth-graders, said preparation for the project sparked great classroom discussions that could be related to any subject.
Peru Central Superintendent Patrick Brimstein agreed.
“This is wonderful, whenever you make the connections of different curriculums,” he said.
John Root, a technology teacher in the Middle School, had students build sturdy pinwheels with wooden stakes and heavy-duty construction paper. He wove around the grounds, helping students hammer their creations into the ground.
Laundry said she had her classes read and discussed Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech before building their pinwheels.
Though the pinwheels were placed sporadically, bunched in some places and spaced out in others, they revolved on the same cool and constant breeze on a sunny autumn afternoon.
Katie Francia’s third-grade students seemed delighted with the beautiful weather and watched as a breeze spurred their art projects into motion. For them, it was also Sports Team Day, but even though their teacher wore a Jets jersey while most of them wore blue and white, it was clear these kids were on the same team.
“This teaches students what peace represents," Francia said. "When they come out and see everyone united behind one goal, all with a different-looking pinwheel but the same place to put it, they understand."