The two Heritage Middle School students looked at the blank sheet of paper, thinking about the images they wanted to create to introduce themselves to students from the other side of the world.
They sat facing a laptop where Jan Fedorenko, a retired Westerville elementary principal and education coordinator for the Arts Council of Westerville, offered guidance on their new art project through a virtual meeting.
“You’re going to be creating some drawings and telling me something about you — things that you like, things that make you happy,” she said.
As part of the Memory Project, seventh-grade students in Juls Rathje’s art classes at Genoa and Heritage middle schools are part of an art exchange with students in Cameroon, engaging in artistic peacebuilding by sharing handmade, heartfelt artwork with kids in a country culturally different from the United States.
Rathje launched the project earlier this month with Fedorenko, who serves as an artist-in-residence at Genoa and Heritage middle schools funded by the Ohio Arts Council. Fedorenko’s work with students is focused on themes of social justice and kindness. Last semester, she worked with students to create cards for the elderly living in local senior centers.
The Memory Project is an extension of the kindness efforts by showing children in Cameroon, Africa that they are valued and appreciated by giving them works of art, Fedorenko said.
“It’s great for students,” Rathje said. “Being able to connect our students with children in other parts of the world, and bringing them into our classroom is meaningful. Making those connections with children across the world is special.”
Once students complete their artwork for the project, they will trace their hand and sign their name on the back of their art. Rathje will mail the finished pieces and then share art created by students in Cameroon to her students. She received a $1,400 grant from the Westerville Education Foundation to cover the Memory Project fees and postage costs for the 120 students participating in the project.
“It’s really cool because they’ll be able to see the kind of stuff that we like,” said Bizzie Ritz, a seventh-grader at Heritage.
She and another seventh-grader, Brynley Carr, have been working with Fedorenko on their drawings. Ritz decided to sketch her favorite animals — wolves, cats and dragons — while Carr opted to keep it simple and draw her house.
“I’ve never been there so it’s kind of interesting to learn what they like,” Carr said.