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Local students connect with the Olympics through art

In the 2014 Olympic Village of Sochi, Russia, is an exhibit of children’s art. The colorful pictures depict scenes of competition, friendship and peace.

And 70 of those pictures were drawn by Chattanooga students.

It’s all part of International Paint Pals, a global creative forum for students to connect with other cultures through the universal language of art, according to paintpals.org.

Chattanooga’s IPP coordinator Barbara McKerley teamed up with art teachers at Signal Mountain High School, Red Bank Elementary, the Northside Neighborhood House and more over the last year to connect students of all ages with other cultures.

“[IPP] makes them aware of other people in the world,” McKerley said.

As part of the program, she gave presentations in front of the students. She’d go over her “stepping stones of peace,” which are laughter, trust, friendship, love, dreams and peace. Each stepping stone involved an activity in order to really bring the message home, McKerley said.

“I went in with photos of kids from all over the world,” she said, explaining that the students were shown pictures of children from places like Denmark and Argentina. “They were just so interested in that. It just opens their eyes to the world.”

After she gave her presentation, McKerley then allowed the students to paint.

“At the end of the presentation, I don’t tell them what to paint,” she said. “We just wanted them to paint something that represented the Olympics and friendship and peace.”

The paintings then went through the IPP headquarters in Atlanta before being selected to be sent to Sochi for the exhibit. McKerley said that though usually only 10 from each class are selected to be sent overseas, IPP Director Linden Longino was so impressed with the Chattanooga students’ work that he decided to send all 70 pieces among the thousands being sent from all over the world, McKerley said.

“They all did a super job,” she said. “It’s all about working together and peace. Athletes from all over the world, whether their countries are fighting each other or are good friends, go to the Olympic village and are just fine.”

The 2014 Olympic Winter Games begin Friday, Feb. 7.