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Middle schoolers to take graffiti solution to international competition

Date: 5/10/2011

May 11, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK — They've taken Massachusetts. Now their sights are set on a win in Wisconsin.

The eight sixth graders involved in Gifted and Talented teacher Susan Pac's Community Problem Solving group, Students Against Graffiti (SAG), at Powder Mill Middle School have already parleyed their plan for cleaning up the town's Rails to Trails bike path tunnel into a first-place win at the Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) state competition in Marlborough this March.

SAG members Sarah Spagnolo, Dermatheo Walden, Ethan Whitton, Caroline Methe, Emily Lachtara, McKenna Burelle, Kayla Bergendale and Allison Scharmann are now hard at work trying to raise $1,400 each to fund the group's trip to present their project at the FPSPI International competition, which will take place at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse June 9 through 12.

"The kids decided to tackle the graffiti problem in the [Rails to Trails] tunnel and they came up with the idea of painting [a] mural in the tunnel and it's taken on a life of its own," Nancy Beausoleil, group tech advisor and computer facilitator at Powder Mill School, said of SAG's project. "The kids approached [Westfield] Home Depot [manger Michele Minnear and she] called back extremely interested."

Beausoleil said the home improvement center has agreed to donate all the paint and supplies needed to complete the mural, has already power washed and acid washed the concrete and will be applying both a base coat and primer for the project. The students from the school's art classes will be working to create a mural on the fresh surface, using detailed illustrations of fish caught in nearby as inspiration.

"When the historical society found out what we were doing, they had in their possession 150 charcoal and pastel paintings of fish caught out on Congamond Lake, all drawn to exact scale," Beausoleil said." We have [them] on display in our hallway right now."

According to the FPSPI Web site,, the program, founded by creativity pioneer, Dr. E. Paul Torrance, is designed to stimulate "critical and creative thinking skills, encourages students to develop a vision for the future, and [prepare] students for leadership roles." The program involves "thousands of students annually from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, and the United States" every year.

Beausoleil said the school has been able to provide funds for she and Pac to make the trip, but "the kids have to raise the money for themselves, or get donations from local businesses."

She said the students have "canvassed the whole town," and surrounding towns, soliciting donations from businesses such as Fitness First in Feeding Hills, Molt's Liquors, Southwick Package, Jimmy's Package, Berkshire Bank, Rediker Software, Inc., Hampden Bank, Forastiere Funeral Home in Southwick, Valvoline Express Care and businesswoman Kathleen Molta.

"The local businesses have been fantastic," she said. "They've given us a lot of gift cards and we've done raffles."

Emily Lachtara's mother, Wendy, also contacted the local McDonald's franchise on College Highway about helping the kids with their fund raising.

"I spoke with the owner [who] thought it was a very worthy project," Lachtara said.

For a period of about 10 days, the store will offer patrons the opportunity to purchase a logo designed by the kids — similar in style, Lachtara said, to the Children's Miracle Network paper balloons — for $1, which will be donated to the team. In exchange, Lachtara explained, McDonald's will give the patron a McDonald's coupon as a thank you. She said the donation promotion should start very soon.

"They're doing an amazing job," Beausoleil said of the student's fund[raising efforts, and work to prepare for the international competition. "Yesterday as part of the competition they had to [create] a three-minute media presentation. In less than an hour's time they decided to do a public service announcement."

She said the students wrote a quick skit, using the graffiti as a background, and filmed it at the bike path.

"These are very sharp kids," she said.

To help the SAG team with its fund raising, contact the Powder Mill Middle School, located at 94 Powder Mill Road, or call the school at 569-5951.

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