Bella Napolitano made posters to hang on her porch to spread love to people who pass through her East End neighborhood. The effort was part of a unit at St. Brigid School that ask seventh graders to reflect on loving thy neighbor. Courtesy / Erica Papkee

PORTLAND — When St. Brigid School seventh grader Lannie LaMontagne got an assignment to create something that showed love as part of the school’s Love Thy Neighbor project, she knew exactly what to do.

“I baked banana bread for my neighbor, a family that lost their mother recently,” said LaMontagne, a resident of Long Island. “Around this time people can’t really be together, so baking something for them was another way, instead of hugs, to show them they are loved.”

The Love Thy Neighbor project, said religious education teacher Erica Papkee, was a planned part of the seventh grade curriculum, but “took on special importance as we have all been sheltering in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

“Many students responded to the project with thoughtful ways to engage others during the crisis and many students expressed great empathy for those who are sick, caring for others or somehow impacted by the coronavirus,” Papkee said.

The students were allowed to use any medium they wanted to express what it means to love their neighbor.

Bella Napolitano chose to hang handmade posters with inspirational words outside her East End home.

“A lot of people walk by, so I thought it would help bring joy to people during the day,” she said.

Maggie Fitzgerald of Portland and Nick Munyaneza of Westbrook decided to use the project to create a painting and poem, respectively.

Fitzgerald was inspired by the fact that being a neighbor means accepting others no matter what sort of walk of life they come from. Her piece features five different animals holding “hands.” Two of the animals can be removed from the rest to represent how some people live on the fringes of society and being a loving neighbor means welcoming them in.

Munyaneza’s poem “Neighbor” reminds people that a neighbor is not simply someone who lives next door. It also can also be someone you just met.

“It is the way I express myself,” he said of poetry.

Papkee said the Love Thy Neighbor theme does not end with the creative expressions. This week, students will be tasked with doing something good for a neighbor as a way to “practice what they are demonstrating.”

“St. Brigid is not just about textbook learning,” Fitzgerald said. “It is about being a better person and applying that to your lifestyle.”

Comments are not available on this story.