Volume 76, Number 4 | June 14 - 20 2006

Students work on the Mandala Project, above. One of the partially completed mandalas, below at right.

3 elementary schools try to patch over feud with patchwork mandalas

By Anindita Dasgupta

After a year of high tensions and fighting among parents, students from Public Schools 134, 137 and 184M came together over large circular canvases, oil pastels, fuzzy pompoms, pipe cleaners and mounds of glitter.

The project was designed to smooth relations between the three Lower East Side schools after a year of strained relationships due to the Department of Education’s decisions to move P.S. 184M, also known as the Shuang Wen Academy, into P.S. 137’s old building and combine P.S. 137 and 134 this fall.

The academy shared space in both P.S. 137 and P.S. 134 this past school year. The academy, invited the third- and fourth-grade classes from P.S. 134 and 137 to join their students in creating three different mandalas on the mornings of June 12 and 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Mandalas are a form of ancient art found in many cultures. A mandala often describes a geometric pattern, which is designed to represent a perspective of a microcosm of the universe. The students from the three schools created three different circular mandalas, with each student contributing 20 minutes of art to one of the three mandalas. The end product was a unique compilation of expression from the third- and fourth-graders of all three schools.

Sixty students at a time gathered around three different mandalas as they perfected their patches of art. A few students gathered in a corner trying to help each other wipe off paint from their once-clean clothes. Another student stood a few feet away and threw fistfuls of glitter onto his portion of the mandala, as well as into the open paint containers nearby. Still others started a game of basketball in the gymnasium while their peers finished their artwork. It was all about having fun.

Diana Gongora, a parent and trained art therapist, coordinated the project.

“I thought it would be nice to get the kids to work on a project together,” she said. “This project is intended to introduce the children of our community to each other, as a way to say goodbye to the school year and in the hope that future creative activities will take place among the three schools.

“It was just something I thought of from going to meetings,” she said. “There are so many ways to alleviate tension with art therapy — it should really be in every workplace.”

Gongora studied art therapy in a three-year program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

“Art therapy is about finding your artistic side. There is no right or wrong,” was one of the things she learned.

Gongora considered an art therapy project for the parents who were more involved in the tensions than the students. She thought it would be difficult to find a time when parents would all come together. As a result, the project was an activity for the students resulting in a physical manifestation of their teamwork.

“These tensions have been around for a long time but these kids are just beginning,” Gongora said. “Maybe if they can work together, they can see that they can create something beautiful.”

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