Bright blue, pink, green and yellow pinwheels dotted the lawn of Midvale Middle School in celebration of International Day of Peace and as part of a project called Pinwheels for Peace.
"We are an [International Baccalaureate] world school," said Paula Logan, principal of Midvale Middle. "We're looking for things to help us with that idea of internationalism, realizing that we're a part of the world."
Pinwheels for Peace is an art and literacy project started by two teachers in Coconut Creek, Fla., in 2005: Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan came up with the idea for students to express their feelings in words and art about peace and tolerance.
Students were asked to write their thoughts about peace on one side of the pinwheel and draw, paint or collage on the other side to represent their feelings visually to display on Sept. 21.
"They were really excited for the opportunity to express their own ideas," Logan said.
The finished products were attached to pencils and planted in the ground by students. The idea was that as the pinwheels whirled in the wind, the students' thoughts and feelings will spread throughout the community, the country and eventually the world.
"I think everybody is searching for how they belong to the world," Logan said. "Even if we're making a small pinwheel, it's a way to bring joy to someone and spread peace."
Midvale Middle was authorized as an International Baccalaureate world school this summer. Logan said that a point of education is to help students understand their parts in the world and make it a better place.
"We try to help the kids have more of a global perspective," said Kelly Tauteoli, assistant principal.
By participating in Pinwheels for Peace, Midvale Middle School becomes part of an international project that spans the globe from North America to Europe, Asia and more. According to the project's website, more than 3.5 million pinwheels spun globally on Sept. 21, 2011, in more than 35,000 locations.
Shelley Allen, IB program coordinator at Midvale Middle, came across the project and thought it would be a good activity for the students.
"At first, I wasn't sure if they would think pinwheels would be too kiddish," she said.
The responses she saw reinforced the idea that something so simple can help kids to gain appreciation not just for world peace but also for living in a diverse world.
"A part of being an IB school is we want to open their minds to see that people can be different, but we can still get along," she said.
She observed how excited the students were to be a part of an international effort, seeing their school listed as one of many in the world with the same vision.
"They did take a lot of pride in it," she said.
The creativity ranged from very simple pinwheels with just the word "peace" written on them to some decked out with smiley faces, hearts, stars and flags. One pinwheel in particular was filled with writing that began, "Peace means expanding your mind to include new ideas, concepts, and learning about others."
Another student wrote on a pinwheel, "Treat others the way you want to be treated."
Ninth-grader Julie Ashton colored her pinwheel in zebra stripes simply because she likes zebras, but she said the pinwheel is a symbol of great meaning.
"It's saying we want the world to be a better and peaceful place," Ashton said. "Peace means that everyone feels happy and included."
Tautelio called the project a "natural fit" for the school in its effort to expand global awareness and a sense of community.
"We have a lot of curriculums here and a lot of activities where we get the kids out serving the community," she said.
The students have written up proposals for service projects like making quilts to donate to the Primary Children's Medical Center, making activity booklets for the Family Support Center in Midvale, teaching a dance class for free and visiting a care home for patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Going around and observing the students working on the pinwheels, Tauteoli said she was impressed with how focused the kids were.
"They took it seriously," she said. "They did some good thinking and reflection about it."
Tauteoli said she hopes Pinwheels for Peace and other service projects will help students to look at the bigger picture.
"I think middle-school students especially, because of their age, are so self-focused," she said. "We want to help them think outside of themselves, feel empathy for people around the world."