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Crotona Ave. kids fuse science, art

You’re walking down E. 181st Street, near Crotona Avenue. To your right, litter. To your left, dog poo. Diesel fumes all around.

Then you encounter a jellyfish. Bump into a cow. Happen upon a penguin, a dinosaur, a tropical frog, a mural by students from Frederick Douglass Academy V and the mural proclaims, “Environmental Consciousness – We Will Live Forever.”

John Riveaux’s seventh graders spent March and April painting a playground wall. The art teacher suggested a mural after Hewlett-Packard awarded Frederick Douglas Academy V a $40,000 technology grant to promote conservation. His students painted during the day. They met to paint one night, and lit up the wall with a projector.

“We worked in the cold, in the rain,” said Amber Rivera, 13. “We wanted the kids on the playground to know, if we keep throwing trash on the ground, our earth is going to be broken.”

First, Rivera and her classmates watched Al Gore’s documentary film about global warming – An Inconvenient Truth. They learned about the ozone and over-grazing. Cows emit methane gas. Riveaux asked his students, “What does conservation mean to you?” Frederick Douglass Academy V, on the fifth floor of P.S. 57, overlooks the Bronx Zoo. But Crotona Avenue is more concrete jungle than jungle paradise.

“In our neighborhood, we see garbage and homeless people,” Tabitha Bonilla, 12, said.

So Bonilla and friends chalked out a tribute to the natural world. Jellyfish are endangered, dinosaurs extinct. Tropical frogs and penguins are threatened, too.

“The icebergs are melting,” Monique Gittens, 12, said. “If the icebergs disappear, the penguins will drown.”

In the center of the mural, Rivera, Bonilla and Gittens painted the earth, surrounded by dancing people holding hands.

“The people represent unity,” said Bryce Shannon, 12.

Riveaux’s students hope their aunts and uncles will take the mural seriously. According to Riveaux, the mural will – if nothing else – stimulate conversation.

“People think we’re just kids,” Gittens said. “But we have a brain, too. I liked painting the mural because we got out of class. I liked painting because it felt important, deep.”

Next, Riveaux and his students will decorate recycling bins.

“We started with the mural – now we have a movement,” principal Deborah Cimini said.

On April 21, Riveaux held class on the playground. Just before noon, he led Gittens and the rest upstairs. Shannon kneeled to swipe a plastic “duck sauce” wrapper from the asphalt.

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