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Rainbows Brighten Windows and Hearts in Our Community

Many people in our community are taking longer and more frequent walks these days, while they social distance and enjoy the spring air. For those walkers who are observant, an additional pleasure awaits in many neighborhoods: Student-created rainbows now enliven dozens of windows around town, with more popping up each day. Welcome to the Rainbow Connection, brought to you by the eleven elementary art teachers of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. rainbow and clouds

Gretchen Fisher, art teacher at Rashkis Elementary School (RES) learned about a global art project that was proliferating during the coronavirus pandemic. “I heard about it in the news and via a friend in a neighboring district,” Fisher said. “I thought that it would be great for us to do in Chapel Hill as well.” Ephesus Elementary School (EES) art teacher, Hannah Murphy, read an article about the rainbow art blooming in Brooklyn, and the two teachers shared their ideas during a Professional Learning Community (PLC) conversation with their other colleagues.

Dr. Brenda Whiteman, arts education coordinator, has been a part of the conversation and planning from the beginning, though as she’s quick to say, the PLC of elementary art teachers is already a close-knit group, and they’ve only become more deeply connected and collaborative in recent weeks.

Becky Spring and rainbow art Becky Springer, art teacher at Morris Grove Elementary School (MGES), said, “This is a PLC like no other, and we’ve become even closer during this time.”

Michele Nelson from Estes Hills Elementary School (EHES) agreed. “We have a text thread that’s going constantly,” Nelson said. “I see rainbow pictures pop up on my phone throughout the day.”

As the teachers brainstormed, the CHCCS version of the movement took shape. News articles cropped up from around the world, describing and documenting an international Rainbow Connection. A local Google map was created to show some of the homes where rainbows are visible. Children and their families have been creating rainbow images to share in windows as symbols of community connections - and in hopes for emerging from this crisis with optimism and resilience. 

Although the majority of rainbow art received so far has represented the simple rainbow arc, others have included animals (geckos! cats!) and children. Glenwood Elementary School (GES) Art Teacher, Lindsey Britt, said, “I love how in some of the rainbows the personality of the student that made it really comes through.” gecko rainbow art

The teachers each created their own approaches to sharing instruction with their second through fifth grade students, and they all rolled out the rainbow lesson on Tuesday, April 14. Students were invited to explore whatever media they had on hand. Most painted or colored rainbows on paper, but one student made a rainbow pillow, another made a collection of rainbow pipe cleaner bracelets, and at least one student melted crayons into a large collage.

Fisher included a brief segment in her RES rainbow video instruction, letting her students know how art helps her personally work through sadness and fear. Nelson said, “The arts have always allowed for working through trauma and stressful times. We invited our students to put their feelings out there.”

The teachers encouraged their students to add simple messages to their art, if they felt inspired to share words of reassurance and motivation. Those messages ranged from “Stay home - Be safe” to “Even if we are going through hard times, we are in this together” and “After the storm comes a rainbow. We can get through this together.”

siblings and rainbow art Some photos shared by parents include siblings with their respective rainbows. Springer said several parents have emailed her to describe how the art project has pulled their family closer together. Erin Rasmussen at McDougle Elementary School (MES) added, “All of us have gotten emails from parents, sharing their children’s excitement about the rainbows.”

The Google map can be used to help rainbow hunters find decorated windows, but it can also serve as a geography and epidemiology lesson. “The Quarantine Rainbow Connection has extended beyond Brooklyn - to Chicago, Oakland, Mumbai, Montreal,” reported Charlotte Klein, in the article Murphy shared with her colleagues. “When (a mother) saw that someone in South America had added themselves to the map, she used it as an opportunity for a geography lesson with her daughter. ‘I think the kids had a hard time understanding we’re not the only ones stuck in our house,’ Migdal says. ‘Knowing people around the world are facing the same thing has helped.’”

Whiteman expressed excitement and gratitude for the enthusiasm and compassion teachers have shared with their students. “I do think the rainbow project is amazing, and a really great way to bring together the 6,000 elementary students in our community.”

rainbow ice cream              rainbow EES