Third-grade students in Greg Barbera's class at Riverhead Charter School working on pinwheels for the Pinwheels for Peace display. Photo: Quint Nigro

Students buzzed around their third-grade classroom at Riverhead Charter School last Friday, scrawling on stenciled paper with crayons and oil pastels (their teacher’s favorite, they said.)

This would not be out-of-order for a normal day, but the project they were working on was not an ordinary art project. Their drawings were components of a larger, international project called Pinwheels for Peace.

The project, which boasts participants from all over the world, starts with an age-appropriate lesson on conflicts and peace. The lesson, which focuses on peace as a form of coexistence and cooperation, is followed by a conversation with students about what peace means to them.

“Even though maybe you want to attack someone,” Kristopher said, “we don’t. We just forgive and forget.”

Photo: Quint Nigro

After the conversation, students colored a pinwheel, many with motifs of peace signs and bright colors. 

Students chattered among themselves, and freely shared their thoughts on peace and its value. “Peace is good for everybody,” observed third-grader Mary.

Their teacher Greg Barbera assembled the wheel, because the process involves some sharp edges. Barbera joked about how one of his colleagues kept pricking her finger assembling the pinwheels. “She really is bleeding to death,” he said.

The pinwheels were displayed outside the school on Friday.

Colorful pinwheels on display outside Riverhead Charter School yesterday. Photo: Peter Blasl

The Pinwheels for Peace project began with two teachers in Florida, who designed the project for students to express their feelings about the world and their lives. The project’s website claims that four million people participated in 2019. 

“One of the interesting things, especially at this age level,” Barbera said, “is that they are really just understanding what peace is to them at this moment in their life.”

Barbera said that one student expressed peace as trimming back bamboo, because it kept the “peace” between neighbors.

“Hopefully, they will take this and have a conversation with their family, talking about what peace is,” Barbera said.

Participation in this project makes the charter school one of hundreds of schools that join each year, according to the Pinwheels for Peace website. This art project adds Riverhead Charter School to the list of schools and communities spinning their wheels from every continent, at the same time and for the same goal: peace.

Riverhead Charter School teacher Greg Barbera with students and their pinwheels last week. Photo: Quint Nigro

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Quint Nigro was born and raised in Riverhead, and is a 2023 graduate from College of the Atlantic. His background is in journalism and political science. When he isn't writing for work, he's writing for fun.