From the Heart: How Dexter and Polish students built a bridge of friendship and solidarity

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Here are some pieces of art from students in Poland. image courtesy of Creekside Intermediate School

From the heart says it all when Dexter fifth and sixth-graders connected with students from Poland through a project that saw them creating and exchanging pieces of art.

The big reveal of the art, which was mailed to Dexter from the American Elementary School of Gdynia, Poland, happened on April 28 and saw groups of Creekside Intermediate School students sitting down for a presentation and then seeing what their counterparts or better yet, their new friends from Europe had sent them.

Creekside students look at the art and messages from Poland. photo courtesy of Creekside Intermediate School

A table full artwork was set out by Creekside Art Teacher Jane Montero.

The reactions ranged from curiosity as to what was written on the back of the drawings to deep thoughts in thinking about what the Polish students had created.

According to its Facebook page, the American Elementary School of Gdynia is an English-language school dedicated to offering the best of the American and international educational traditions.

One written note on a piece of art from a Polish student read, “Hello! My name is Weronika and I drew a sunflower because it’s the national symbol of Ukraine. I drew the American flag because we are exchanging art with you!”

In explaining the origin of the project, Montero told The Sun Times News that when Ukraine was invaded by Russia, “one of her art colleagues (Rob Garrett, who teaches in Gdynia, Poland) and I decided to create a collaborative project with my students and his students to bring cheer/joy to each other through art.”

They decided to base the art on a hexagon and agreed to the same size.

Some of the art created by Dexter students. photo courtesy of Creekside Intermediate School

Montero and Garrett are both team moderators for a private Facebook group - Online Art Teachers K12 (OATK12), which was founded by Trina Harlow and Bob Reeker. Montero said none of them had ever met in person, but due to the pandemic, they created a group that is now over 21,000 art educators strong from all over the world.

In explaining the exchange project with the school in Poland, Montero said, “We gave each other complete creative freedom to introduce it however we chose and to have our students create their own designs however they chose.”

And as she said, in viewing the student hexagons from Poland, it is quite apparent where their hearts and minds are right now.

The impact of the Russian invasion on Poland’s neighboring country, Ukraine, was a big theme.

“Viewing their art and reading their responses is a very real and painful reminder of what they are going through,” Montero said. “This project was not directly about the impact of war, but there is so much power in the ability to communicate through art.”

Creekside students look at the art and messages from Poland. photo courtesy of Creekside Intermediate School

During the presentation at Creekside, the students watched a video of the Polish students and Garrett opening the package of art mailed nearly 4,300 miles away from Dexter. Although not understanding the spoken language at times in the video, one could hear the excitement in the voices of the Polish students.

In the video, a slide from Garrett read:

“As Poland became the front line for humanitarian support for Ukraine, we were touched that students at Creekside were thinking of us. It became natural to introduce the project as a ‘love message’ from the children of Dexter for Polish children and Ukrainian families. We reflected on how to express thankfulness through our art. We reflected on how we could share our feelings, lives, and culture with children we had never met, but now felt connected to.”

Students in Poland look at the art work created by Creekside students. photo courtesy of Creekside Intermediate School
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