Hundreds of handmade butterflies honor memory of boy

Students at Simonds Elementary made them to remember their friend

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 8, 2012

 Standing in the hall at Simonds Elementary with more than 300 butterflies made in memory of the late Joshua Tyler Calderon are fourth-graders Juliona Cannon, Marley Vial and Tyler West. In the back row are fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Vivian and paraprofessional Sandy Perreault.

Standing in the hall at Simonds Elementary with more than 300 butterflies made in memory of the late Joshua Tyler Calderon are fourth-graders Juliona Cannon, Marley Vial and Tyler West. In the back row are fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Vivian and paraprofessional Sandy Perreault.

Photo by David Schreiber

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Look up as you walk the halls at Simonds Elementary, and you’ll wonder how you wandered into a butterfly enclosure.

More than 300 handcrafted butterflies are suspended from the ceiling. Their bodies are wood clothespins spray-painted black, with pipe-cleaner antennae and paper wings dotted with sequins. Each butterfly is one-of-a-kind, reflecting the student who made it, and every kid at the school contributed to the collection.

The butterflies honor the memory of Joshua Tyler Calderon, a Simonds Elementary fourth-grader who died just before Christmas at the age of 9 due to complications from a rare skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa.

People with EB don’t have collagen-7, the protein layer that “glues” the top two layers of skin together. As such, his skin was as delicate as a butterfly’s wings, and the slightest contact could bruise and tear — hence EB’s moniker as the “butterfly disease.”

This meant Calderon had to spend his life with limbs wrapped in swathes of bandages that needed to be changed daily, a process that was painful in itself. He couldn’t play with the other children at recess and had to keep physical activity to a minimum.

But none of this diminished Calderon’s spirit, which quickly earned him a reputation as one of the nicest kids at school. His mother petitioned to bring him over from the Phillipines in late 2010, and prior to his arrival at Simonds, there was a schoolwide assembly to teach the other kids that Calderon may look different and require people to move more carefully around him, but on the inside he was the same as them.

By all accounts the kids lovingly took him in, and Calderon returned the love in kind. When the fourth-graders paired up with kindergarteners for various activities, Calderon wouldn’t begrudge the younger kids when he noticed them staring. He told them it was OK to ask about his condition. Likewise, if someone else looked different, like a girl with a leg brace, he would tell them there’s nothing wrong with them.

Calderon was known to try his hardest to participate in all of the classroom activities, even if it hurt his hands to manipulate dice and counters during math games, or pained his knees to sit on the floor at reading time. He powered through it and kept a good attitude.

During recess he would sit on the stoop if the weather was nice and sing his favorite song, Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Other kids would often choose to stay and play with him.

In the end, the disease led to Calderon’s passing. Students left Lego constructs at his desk, and community members organized a fundraiser for his family that brought in more than $8,000. The students wore yellow, Calderon’s favorite color, and sang his favorite song.

Now they’ve created these butterflies — hundreds of them, in a wide variety of patterns and colors — to trace the path through the school that Calderon used to walk. He would start his days in one room until the halls thinned out and he could safely walk to the class of Jennifer Vivian, his teacher, at the other end of the school.

She said the project speaks to the message Calderon taught by example.

“The uniqueness of the butterflies, the uniqueness of you, the beauty on the inside — the project represents all of that,” Vivian said. “When they had the opportunity to make the butterflies, the students took great care in planning it to make sure it was their best work, and many of them wanted to include yellow, Joshua’s favorite color.”

The butterflies were made prior to spring break in early April. The project was orchestrated by Craig Hinshaw, an art teacher known throughout the Lamphere district for his many creative endeavors. Once he brought a live horse to Hiller Elementary to model for the kids. At Lessenger Elementary he transformed a barren lot into a lush koi garden with a rabbit the whole school takes care of. And in January, Edison Elementary unveiled over 300 life-size cardboard cutouts, one of every student in the building.

With the butterfly project, Hinshaw spray-painted and drilled holes in all of the clothespins himself. His wife, Carol, offered to cut out all of the wings. The students did the rest, decorating the wings and paying special attention to symmetry, so the pattern on one wing mirrored the other.

Hinshaw also took the opportunity to teach all of the students at Simonds about the healing power of art as seen in memorials.

“Right away, I wanted to do it,” Hinshaw said. “Art has a way of adding closure or healing or beauty, and I just knew right away this was something I really wanted to bring to the school. The memorial I talked about most is the Vietnam Memorial; it was personal to me, when I was coming of age. They could hear me choking up as I talked about it.”

Hinshaw remembers Calderon well.

“I worked with him last year,” Hinshaw said. “What impressed me was last year, he had something like a cast on his hand, but he could still draw very well.”

Now the whole school has created art remembering Calderon. Vivian said the butterflies offer an opportunity for the Simonds community to reflect on the boy they loved so much.

“When people walk down the hallway, not a time goes by that someone doesn’t make a comment or look up and see that they’re there,” Vivian said. “It’s a gentle reminder of our little buddy.”

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