Sixth and eighth grade classes from the Joseph B. Cavallaro School in Bensonhurst, I.S. 281, have officially been given a space to express their opinions, decorating a lunch table in Bensonhurst Park that addresses unity and diversity with original designs. The artsy group was over 30 kids strong and squirmed for the pictures, excited to see their table in the park which will be on display until August.
Guided by Teaching Artist Alan Bessen of the Learning through an Expanded Arts Program (LEAP), children went through the process of creating the mural starting with rough sketches and eventually designing on a scale model before painting the actual table.
Representing unity, a huge tree is painted in the middle of the table with flags for leaves and hands that signify sign language as the bark. Near it is a red building that shows the consequences of being divided, featuring fighting silhouettes and broken windows. On the seats, are the words for hello in almost 20 different languages, which Reta Chaola said he painted alongside his classmates.
“We tried to make this table to show people friendship is important, because friendship evolves things to be better. Bad things can happen when there isn’t unity, and with friendship we can make the society great,” said Chaola.
Also present at the premiere was Elizabeth Walsack of the Parks Department, and school teachers Theresa Cardazone and Lisa Perchick. Cardazone teaches character development to the entire sixth grade, which totals over 500 students.
The diversity side includes faceless figures holding hands and encircling the planet, a portion of the bench having a heart that holds the entire planet inside it. The whole thing can be seen off Bay 29th Street and Cropsey Avenue, nestled by a park house and the chess tables.
“What drew me to respond was the fact that this program tied arts into character development,” said Cavallaro Principal Maria Bender. Over 1,300 students from over 42 countries make up I.S. 281, one being Omobolaji Falade, who is of Nigerian descent. Falade said, “The table is important to me personally because it’s always been a dream for me to make a mark on the community. Now that the table is out, my dream came true.”
“I feel that even though we’re different, our values are the same,” said student Sheima Benabdallah. “Loyalty to your family is one of my values, but I think people all over the world have that.”
In charge of putting it all together is the creator and director of LEAP’s Public Arts Program, Alexandra Leff, who said she thought the children were brave discussing big issues and that it was good to be able to give the younger generation a public forum.
These days, the younger generation includes kids that speak multiple languages. Sixth grader Valeriya Bronnikova is fluent in Russian, Kamil Barcikowska speaks Polish, and Kainat Sikander can speak Urdu. Barcikowska, when asked to pass a kernel of wisdom to kids younger than him, said if he were to say anything about unity to younger kids it would be, “That you should always be united. If you need to use diversity to help you, use diversity to help you.” With that, Barcikowska rejoined his friends at the benches, happy to be spending the day outside.