PORTLAND  — With its new rainbow-colored crosswalks, the Ocean Avenue Elementary School is making a very public statement about its commitment to diversity and tolerance.

The crosswalks, which were unveiled during a special ceremony June 1, are an initiative of the school’s Civil Rights Team.

The two crossings, at each entrance to the school campus, are designed to “honor our diversity and represent our belief that everyone is equal and should be treated with dignity and respect,” the team said in a press release.

Chris Salamone, a social worker at the school and adviser of the Civil Rights Team, said, “This project was driven by a group of elementary school kids who want a safer, kinder, more inclusive society.”

“I told (them that) everyone involved in the project left a lasting legacy. From this day forward everyone who enters our campus has to cross a symbol that says everyone is welcome here,” he said.

“Ultimately,” Salamone said, “the team’s purpose is to get students involved in creating a safe, welcoming (and) inclusive school environment … by reducing bias-motivated behaviors.”

He said the idea for adding rainbow-colored crosswalks to the school campus originally came from Principal Beverly Stevens, who “had seen a rainbow crosswalk in Canada and suggested it as a possibility. Several of the students had also seen one before and they were all in.”

Salamone said the Civil Rights Team wanted the crosswalks located at both entrances because now “you cannot enter our school without crossing the symbol.” He said the six colors chosen represent each class of people protected by bias laws.

“Ocean Avenue has an incredibly diverse population,” he added. “Our students come from 27 different countries (and) practice many different religions. Additionally, we have students with disabilities, others who are transgender, gender fluid or have two moms or two dads. You could say we are quite a rainbow ourselves.”

“Come to our playground at recess and you’ll see children wearing hijabs playing foursquare with a transgender child and children wearing Yankees or Red Sox hats. Children aren’t born with hate and bias built in, it is taught to them,” Salamone said.

He said the crosswalk project was “a real collaborative effort,” including getting approval from the city.

Salamone said Portland’s Public Works Department and the school facilities department then “helped the kids choose a design that allowed for the rainbow colors but also met safety codes.”

“The kids were involved in everything from choosing the project, defining the message, crafting emails to the mayor, superintendent, and MDOT, choosing the correct paint and colors, painting the crosswalk, creating banners, and presenting (official) remarks,” he said.

“They also included the rest of the school in the project from the beginning to the end, by describing the project and its message and giving updates at our monthly school-wide community meetings. They even involved the whole school in helping create a video about the project.”

Stevens said, “This project is helping us meet Ocean Avenue Elementary School’s mission and vision (in which we) encourage our students to take action based on their learning. These students learned a lot from creating our rainbow walk.”

Salamone said the crosswalk project is especially important in light of “the amount of hate and divisiveness” that seems to be coming from various quarters across the country these days.

“Earlier this year at one of our bus stops, there were a number of (immigrant) students talking and playing while waiting for the bus,” Salamone said. “A man came up the street screaming and threatening the students, telling them he wished they were dead and to go back to where you came from.

“Contrast that to the message sent by (the new crosswalks),” he said. “I am almost 60 years old and these kids give me hope.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Civil Rights Team at Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Portland was behind the creation June 1 of two rainbow-colored crosswalks on the school campus that are designed to send a message of tolerance.

Members of the Civil Rights Team at Ocean Avenue Elementary in Portland get set on June 1 to paint a rainbow-colored crosswalk designed to show the school is “safe, welcoming (and) inclusive.”

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