Hanby Arts and Math/Science Magnet School and Emerson World Cultures Magnet School are celebrating diversity this school year with the theme, "Standing Together, We Make Westerville Better."

Emerson fifth-grader Rhianna Friedman came up with the theme, and both of the Westerville elementary schools have many activities planned under the direction of Hanby school counselor Melissa Harps and Emerson and Hanby art teacher Juls Rathje.

After seeing a need in the community to recognize, appreciate and embrace differences, Harps said she is planning to make the theme of diversity a component of lessons and activities.

"By learning strategies to help solve problems when there is a conflict, difference in opinion or belief at a young age," Harps said, "it will lead to citizens (who) can work together to make our community a very special and cohesive place to live."

During the year, challenges will be presented to teams of students within classrooms so they can learn how to solve problems as a community.

Students will then discuss how they can put their solutions into practice in the real world.

When posed with the question of how differences can make Westerville stronger, Emerson fourth-grader Jackson Smith said, "I think we should use our differences every day to bring not just our community but the world closer together."

Harps said this is what she and Rathje are striving to cultivate in their schools.

Rathje plans to work with students to create a "Hanby City" and an "Emerson City."

Each grade level will complete a different piece of the city, such as buildings, vehicles, trees/nature, animals and people.

"This mural will be created out of paper and displayed in the hallways of both schools," Rathje said.

"The theme will be that we are all a part of our Westerville community and an important part of our school."

Already this year students decorated a hand template that reflects who they are and how they are unique.

Rathje said the students enjoyed showing creativity on their individual projects and were excited to see the final pieces -- gigantic, collaborative school diversity flags -- which will be prominently displayed at each building all year.

Rathje will again be working with the Westerville Arts Council in April to be a part of the Mount Carmel St. Ann's 4th Friday celebrations.

She recently led an activity during a 4th Friday and the Passport to the Arts, along with fifth-grade volunteers from both schools.

They invited people walking by to create a Postcard to Space, a collaboration with NASA and Projekt Postcard, a global art mission.

In April, the theme will be Diversity and the Standing Together project.

This month the Westerville Public Library will host an exhibition of student work and photographs of the diversity mural.

Students' written thoughts on diversity will be displayed along with the photographs.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla