Fields of Gold

The Lower School’s new sunflower project supports Ukrainian refugees.

Sunflowers are in bloom across the Lower School just as they are throughout Ukraine—even, or perhaps especially, in a time of war. Sunflowers are not only Ukraine’s official national flower; they are also a symbol of peace. In 1996, for example, leaders marked Ukraine’s nuclear weapons disarmament by planting sunflowers. First Lady Jill Biden sported one at the State of the Union address in January, just ahead of the Russian invasion. And recently, demonstrations in support of Ukraine around the world have included them on posters and signs.

Inspired by the sunflower, the Lower School’s Service Learning Committee partnered with the refugee and asylum support organization HIAS to fundraise for displaced people in Ukraine. (Established over 100 years ago by New York’s Jewish community, HIAS was once known as the the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.) The Lower School decided to create sunflower art to sell during a silent auction at Spring Fling and then give all the proceeds to HIAS.
To familiarize students with the concepts of war and displacement, the children started the project with a reading about refugees. Then teachers tasked each class with creating their own sunflower vision. “A lot of classes used the Quaker decision-making process to decide how the project would look,” says Jamie Tomik, a 4th grade teacher and co-clerk of the Service Learning Committee at the Lower School. “So there was a lot of student voice and choice involved.” As a result, each class created something slightly different—a mural-like piece with a garden of sunflowers, smaller individual pieces using tissue paper, and collages bursting with yellow.

Using unique QR-linked codes, parents and other community members could bid on the art or simply make a donation. So far, the Lower School has raised more than $2,100 for HIAS, which plans to be in Ukraine and Poland working with refugees for the next several years.

Ukraine’s national flower, soniashnyk in Ukrainian, has been grown on its central and eastern steppes since the 1700s. That’s when the native North American plant was first introduced to Europe. Now Sidwell Friends Lower Schoolers are reintroducing it—as a message of peace.


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