Alex Jiang, 9, taught his Best Buddy, Michael Achampong, 5, how to give a high five and a fist bump and now the two are working on a mural together through an artist-in-residence program at Bells Mill Elementary School in Potomac.
“I like working with Michael,” Alex, a fourth-grader, said. “I think it is a good experience to work with the autism class.”
As students pieced together colored tiles, artist-in-residence, Carien Quiroga, of North Potomac, showed how they would be cemented onto a base and grouted in to make murals.
The art is based on the book “Louie” by Ezra Jack Keats which is about a lonely boy who responds differently than other children to characters in a puppet show.
“The message from the book is you can reach people in different ways,” Sarah Kanter, school counselor, said, adding that it was a perfect opportunity for the Best Buddies to work together on the project.
Best Buddies is a “global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” according to the organizations website.
At Bells Mill it really is a bridge between the general education students and the students with autism, Kanter said.
“It’s working really well and the students seem to be enjoying themselves,” she said.
Students from the fourth and fifth grades work with their buddies, creating two different murals which will hang in the hallway near the autism classrooms.
“It’s a nice thing to do, to make new friends and help each other,” Abby Pashoff, 9, a fourth-grader, said while working with her Best Buddy Etienne Farnoux, 6, and special education paraeducator Alissa Margolis to create Louie’s shirt.
The students read “Louie” together and selected the pictures from they book they wanted to recreate as murals.
Fourth-graders named their mural “Louie Finds his Voice” and fifth-graders called their mural “Celebrating Louie.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” fifth-grader Hailey Weiss, 10, said. “I enjoy helping the autism kids learn new things, keeping them company and feeling a part of the school.”
Hailey is Best Buddies with Aida Thoir, 8.
Bells Mill received two $500 grants, one from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the other from the Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation to create the murals.
“The purpose of our grant was for the kids to work cooperatively and use the art of creating a mosaic mural as a tool to introduce and reinforce concepts of building positive relationships, tolerance and inclusion,” said Debbie Taylor, staff development teacher who wrote the grant proposals.