Students send artwork to victims of Boston bombings

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published April 29, 2013

 In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, about 140 art students at Wyandot Middle School created racing bibs with supportive messages in honor of the victims. The bibs were later mailed out to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, about 140 art students at Wyandot Middle School created racing bibs with supportive messages in honor of the victims. The bibs were later mailed out to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Photo provided by Amy Brown

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — There are more than 100 of them, and they come equipped with encouraging messages, best wishes, earnest prayers and other words of support: “Stay strong, Boston.” “We send our love.” “Praying for everyone in Boston.” “You are all in our hearts.”

The objects in question are imaginatively decorated racing bibs created by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Wyandot Middle School, part of Chippewa Valley Schools. What started as an art project to help students cope with the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon quickly turned into a collective gift from the school to the many victims and their loved ones, who are still suffering through the aftermath of that horrific national tragedy.

Wyandot art teacher Amy Brown said that, when her students came to class the morning after the bombings, she wanted to discuss what had happened and allow them to share what was on their minds. But then she had the idea to take the discussion one step further.

“I wanted to give them a way to express how they were feeling about this tragedy in an artistic way,” she explained. “I encouraged them to keep talking with each other while they worked so they could get their thoughts together clearly, and then put them into this piece of art that they were creating.”

Brown, who is an avid runner, said that most of her students were unfamiliar with racing bibs — the numbered labels that runners wear on the front of their shirts in organized races — going into the project. However, she was certain that this would be the perfect symbol to communicate sympathy and respect for the victims of the bombings.

“It just seemed like such an iconic piece of memorabilia, especially coming from a big race like the Boston Marathon,” Brown said. “Racing bibs have a lot of sentimental value for runners.”

About 140 students contributed to the art project altogether, and the finished pieces were hung up in the hallway for all at Wyandot to see. Then, on April 25, the racing bibs were taken down, packed up in boxes and mailed out to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where many of the bombing victims are still being treated. Brown credited her seventh-grade students for coming up with the idea to donate their artwork.

Seventh-grader Natalie Stonehouse said she hopes that, with this gesture, Wyandot’s message to Boston is crystal clear. “We wanted to make something that would show people over there that we support them,” she said. “I just hope they know that everyone over here is thinking about them and wishing that they and their families will be OK.”

A number of students went the extra mile to customize their racing bibs. According to Brown, since some kids had family members or friends who took part in the marathon, she was able to look up the racing numbers of those loved ones so the students could include those numbers on their artwork.

Many students incorporated the official Boston Marathon colors — sky blue and yellow — into their racing bibs, as well, including seventh-grader Hannah Garavaglia. “I was just trying to make something bright and happy that would help cheer people up,” she said. “I think they will feel better when they see it.”

Garavaglia also included a prayer at the top of her bib for Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who was killed in the bombings. Seventh-grader Jessica Wasmund did the same, expressing sympathy for Richard’s family and all the others who have been affected by the events of April 15.

“It was really tragic and heartbreaking; it was a very sad day for everyone in America,” Wasmund said. “We just want people in Boston to know that they are not alone and that there are people everywhere who care about them.”

Joe Connolly, Wyandot assistant principal, applauded his students for their youthful idealism. “These kids are so compassionate and empathetic and hardworking,” he said. “They’re still young enough to believe that any problem in the world can be solved through a little bit of love, care and compassion.”

Connolly, a marathon runner himself, pointed out that Wyandot is filled with students who are enthusiastic about running, as the school’s various track teams have about 140 combined members. He believes that Wyandot’s focus on health and wellness, coupled with its students’ natural concern for those who are less fortunate, meant that the Boston bombings had an especially big impact on the school.

“Anytime something big is happening in the world, our kids at Wyandot want to do something about it,” Connolly said. “Doing projects like this is a great way for them to have a dialogue about what’s happening in the world and get their anxieties and fears out. It’s a necessity for them to express how they’re feeling in some way, even if they can’t necessarily put it into words.”

Brown agreed, noting that an artistic outlet like the racing bibs allows students to find a greater degree of personal meaning in such a senseless national tragedy.

“I think a lot of them feel more connected to what happened in Boston now that they’ve done this project,” she said. “When they get a chance to create something physical like this, it really brings the event home for them and makes it feel a lot more real.”

But what about the racing bibs, themselves? With the number of similar gifts that have likely flooded Boston hospitals from all over the world these last few weeks, what if Wyandot’s contribution goes unseen?

“I honestly don’t know if they’re going to hang up our racing bibs at the hospital or not,” Brown said, “but I really hope they do. Either way, I’m just glad that our kids were able to do this project because I think the act of doing it is what really matters.”