All Saints Regional Catholic School’s Kite Flying Festival Helps Students Deal With Emotions From Superstorm Sandy

Apr 09, 2014
Photo by: Kelley Anne Essinger

Surrounded by friends and family, students at All Saints Regional Catholic School in Manahawkin sprinted across the school grounds, trailing handcrafted paper kites during a Kite Flying Festival Thursday, April 3. The colorful event, complete with sunshine, smiles and a fair amount of wind, concluded the school’s 12-week Sandy Relief Arts Education Initiative.

The grant program, subsidized through the New Jersey Recovery Fund and Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, has helped the children focus on the power of the arts as a vehicle for healing and recovery, post-Superstorm Sandy.

“The students don’t always recognize why they’re feeling certain ways, so this is a nice way for them to express their feelings and possibly identify some of them,” said Beth McIlmail, the school’s art teacher. “Creating through the arts, I believe, is a really healing process.”

All Saints is one of 12 institutions, including the Beach Haven School on Long Beach Island, to receive funding for the program, valued at $10,000. McIlmail applied for the grant in June, and the students began creating their projects in January.

“We wanted it to be for healing and to bring the community together in a shared, joyful event to offset the turmoil of all that emotional upset from Sandy,” said McIlmail. “There were some individuals who were personally affected through the storm. They’ve been out of their homes for several months, for over a year and a half; some people still have not gotten back into their homes. You see it all around you. There’s still a lot of recovery.”

Every student in pre-K through eighth grade took part in the arts program, guided by Marilyn Keating, who was chosen as the school’s artist-in-residence. A sculptor and teaching artist for the state, she has concentrated much of her energy on public, outdoor and community art projects.

Affectionately known as “the kite lady” among the students, Keating instructed each grade on how to make different types of mostly Asian kites. The kindergarten and first grade classes made paper-folding kites; the second grade classes made fish windsocks; the third and fourth grade classes made a typical children’s kite from Asia called a mini wau, or a Japanese bug kite; the fifth-graders made a Japanese kite called a buka; the sixth- and seventh-graders made a Malaysian kite called a layang; and the eighth-graders made a Japanese kite called a suruga.

To craft the kites, the students used Japanese paper, streamers, roles of string, liquid watercolors and dismantled bamboo blinds.

In addition to the art class, some students in sixth through eighth grade opted to work with Keating once a week during flex time, to work on bigger kite projects. Surfboards, aliens, butterflies, birds and turtles were among the many designs.

“The students’ excitement just kept growing and growing and growing, and near the end they all wanted to make kites on their own because they had the techniques down,” said Keating. “We wanted to send wishes and dreams into the sky after Sandy and just have this community event where everybody got together. Group excitement’s always good.

The school staff believes the kite festival will be something the students will remember for years to come.

“The storm had a lot of emotional turmoil, and you remember things that you’re emotionally connected to,” said McIlmail. “When you do something like this, and everybody’s doing it together, you remember the joy of it.”

“That’s all I want,” agreed Keating.

— Kelley Anne Essinger

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