South Brunswick was plunged into darkness after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy knocked out power in some parts of town for weeks, however the images were still inescapable.
Even without power, residents throughout the township were still affected by the level of destruction visited upon the Jersey Shore, as once familiar landmarks washed away into the Atlantic Ocean.
As South Brunswick struggled with its own restoration efforts, staff members of the South Brunswick School District sought ways to get help those in need, while empowering students as well. Recently, Brunswick Acres Elementary School launched an initiative called "Shells for NJ Shores" to raise money for coastal relief efforts.
"With something as devatstating as Sandy, it's important for everyone to try and do something to help with the recovery and rebuilding, and that includes children," said Brunswick Acres art teacher Suzanne Tiedemann. "We created 'Shells for NJ Shores' as an art project where students and artists everywhere are invited to create and sell shell themed art. After we're done selling, we will make a donation to an organization that sends help where people need it the most."
Tiedemann developed the idea as she was looking for an art lesson for her students and thought of a project called Haiti Houses, which was an art project designed to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti. The project, created by Florida art teachers Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan, seemed like a perfect fit for the kind of art students could create to symbolize the Jersey Shore.
"I thought shells would be appropriate and would allow teachers the flexibility to get creative as well when designing their own shell-themed lessons," Tiedemann said.
Soon thereafter, Tiedemann was joined in the fund raising efforts by Indian Fields art teacher Katina Ewaskiewicz, Brooks Crossing art teacher Ellen Kazar, Greenbrook art teacher Jennifer Kipnis and Monmouth Junction art teacher Jill Ward.
Through social media, Tiedemann also gained attention from teachers all over the country interested in "Shells for NJ Shores," including Virginia, Texas and Illinois.
"What's really cool is that teachers from all over the place started to take an interest in this, so it's not just a district project. The more students learn about this, the bigger difference we can make," she said. "People are doing amazing things to help with the project, while also developing cool lessons. I think this has the potential for our students to make a big difference for people who live at the Jersey Shore."
The effort continues to be spurred by social media, as Texas art teacher Holly Bess Kincaid created a group Pinterest Board where art teachers are pinning possible shell-themed lessons to do with their students. In addition, Wayne art teacher Mary Beth Kopacz, created a Facebook group where teachers post photos of students’ shell-themed artwork, share and discuss media, and make new connections with others, Tiedemann said.
After the artwork is completed, the shells will be sold for anywhere from $3 to $5, before the donation totals are tallied on the "Shells for NJ Shores" web site.
The project has also been helped by a partnership with East Brunswick High School, who allowed Brunswick Acres to have a complimentary table to sell the shell crafts at the EBHS Craft Fair on Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Brunswick Acres staff, parents and student volunteers will be selling student made shell crafts at the event. There will also be a large variety of products including, hand-made jewelry, stuffed animals, artwork, photography, handbags, make-up and perfumes, children’s gifts, knitted and crocheted items, hand-made chocolate creations, custom airbrushing, gift baskets, and much more.
Beyond just giving a helping hand to those in need, Tiedemann noted the project can have a more profound impact on students that they will carry with them throughout their lives.
"This allows students to have empathy for others who are going through a tough time and it gives them the opportunity to feel they can make a difference," she said. "It's so important to them to feel like they can do something to help and to recognize the power the arts can have. As people continue to participate in the project and the donation numbers continue to rise, it lets our students see how twenty-first century tools like the Internet allow us to collaborate and make a difference together. That has pretty big potential."
Click here to get involved or for more information on "Shells for NJ Shores."
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