Artistic expression has a way of turning a theoretical lesson into a very personal reality.
That much was clear as more than 40 students from Falcon Creek Middle School braved the late afternoon sun on Sept. 28 to turn messages of tolerance, kindness and acceptance into outdoor works of art. The school's second annual Chalk Art Contest had the middle schoolers creating colorful tableaus on the concrete in front of the Falcon Creek entry doors.
Some groups sketched out vibrant images of shining suns in bright yellow chalk; others drew the round shape of the planet earth or a group of people holding hands. For all the artistic range on display, the dozens of Falcon Creek students offered a common theme of acceptance.
That was no accident. The contest was the formal kick-off event for Falcon Creek's larger effort to earn a designation as a No Place for Hate school for the second year in a row. The formal status awarded through the Anti-Defamation League is designed to recognize a school that's become a "welcoming community committed to stopping all forms of bias and bullying." Last year, Falcon Creek was the first middle school in the Cherry Creek School District to earn the title, and the Chalk Art Contest was the first step to garner the award for the second time.
The contest was one of the first pushes to achieve that goal. The dozens of Falcon Creek students submitted initial designs on the straightforward theme of "acceptance." Individual artists and groups came together to turn their initial sketches into dynamic pieces of outdoor art.
"This is a way to really engage our students so they can participate in a hands-on activity," said Falcon Creek Principal Lisa Ruiz. "This really comes from their hearts. This is a message that they believe in – that we accept everybody despite their differences."
It was easy to see the impact of that message as students of all backgrounds worked together to create stirring and stunning works with chalk. Eighth-graders worked hand-in-hand with sixth-graders; teams composed of black, white and Asian students created portraits that spoke of unity, community and welcome.
And that was just the beginning. The contest was part of a much larger No Place For Hate program that will take place in the school throughout the coming year. Students will have the chance to view videos specifically designed to stamp out bullying and intolerance. A poster campaign will keep the basic message as part of the school's culture. A team of eighth-grade volunteers who've been specifically trained in the program's tenets will serve as No Place For Hate ambassadors.
"This is just so important as far as the message," said Corbin Woodward, a counselor at Falcon Creek. "It's about accepting people for who they are."
The message resonated among the teachers and administrators as well. As the 40-plus students discussed the finer details of their chalk drawings, Ruiz was hard at work on her own tableau, one that showed support from the school's administrators.
"It's really exciting. Grandview High School is also a No Place For Hate school. We're so happy to be the middle school representatives, and we're hoping to reach out to our feeder elementary schools so that we can have a whole system," Ruiz said. "We're all in this together for acceptance."