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Beeman students paint for Puerto Rico

NEW HAVEN — Beeman Elementary students are turning their school’s old classroom furniture into art to raise money to help the people of Puerto Rico, who are still recovering from back-to-back hurricanes this past September.
Thirty-one fifth- and sixth-graders under the guidance of art teacher Eileen Gombosi and social studies teacher Annette Carter are participating in a service-learning project that combines classroom study, creative work and fundraising.
“They’re learning social activism through art,” Gombosi said.
Old wooden chairs and school desks rescued from storage at the New Haven school now radiate with new purpose. Colorful images of Puerto Rican wildlife, flags, music and sports alternate with scenes inspired by the students’ own experiences in Vermont.
The students were busy transforming the furniture into functional art during a class this past Wednesday.
Dinara Meyers-Newmark, who loves horses, and Brailey Livingston, who lives on a nearby farm, were painting a pastoral scene on the seat of a chair.
“I think about nature, because nature in Puerto Rico is everything,” said Meyers-Newmark of her thought process while painting.
Jacques Snell and Andrew Nolan designed a music-themed collage for a desktop. Along with a Puerto Rican flag and a music staff, they’ve painted two singers against a bright yellow background. Their message: “Anyone can sing.”
Caribbean wildlife abounds in the diverse imagery.
Ezra Louer said he wanted to paint lizards because he was fascinated by the ways they can adapt.
Lily Case, Shelby Stevers and Mali Ward were painting both forest and ocean life.
When asked if the pair of blue macaws on the side of his group’s desk were lovebirds, Carter Markwell looked doubtful. “I don’t know,” he said carefully.
The finished projects will make their debut at Beeman’s annual Bingo/Take a Cake Family Night on March 14 and will also feature at the naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens, which will be held at Beeman on April 12.
Gombosi is creating a special website where completed projects will be auctioned for charity later in the semester (look for the web address in a future edition of the Independent).
The students voted on how to distribute the proceeds. Roughly half chose “animal welfare,” and the rest were almost evenly split between “ecosystems” and “people.”
Part of the project will include researching and deciding which organizations to donate money to, Gombosi said.
In addition to paint, students are learning to express themselves creatively with words. Synthesizing the information they’ve gathered through supervised online research, articles, podcasts and news videos, students in Annette Carter’s social studies class have written letters to a fictional character named Maria, comparing Puerto Rico with Vermont.
In her letter, sixth-grader Sara Sansone wrote, “You may not think that Vermont has tourism but it does, especially in the winter because of the skiing and the snowboarding … and other fun snowy things like that. You, on the other hand, have a lot more tourism than we do because of your beautiful beaches and blue waters. Also because of the rare and unique animals such as the cocqui frog and the Puerto Rican parrot.” She closed by expressing her hope that Puerto Rico will be repaired “from side to side and top to bottom.”
Some schools in Puerto Rico still lack power and Internet service after Hurricane Irma passed near the Caribbean Island in early September, and Hurricane Maria scored a direct hit just two weeks later — devastating the island. Plants were ripped up or toppled over in the high winds, ravaging agriculture; the already fragile economy was badly hurt. Many schools were closed for much of the fall.
“When Eileen suggested this service learning project in response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, I could see how beautifully it would fit in with our unit on ‘Immigration Then and Now’ and our goal at Beeman to find ways to ‘Make a Difference’ in our community and beyond,” Carter said.
Gombosi, who’s in her first year at Beeman, said she really wanted to show the students that kids can make a difference.
“It’s truly a win-win-win: the students, the recipients in Puerto Rico, the person who ends up buying art!” she said.
Christopher Ross is at [email protected].

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