Interfaith Community Arts Project Unfurls!

Abdullah Hasan felt the time just flew by.

Right before Thanksgiving, middle-schoolers from Pasadena’s New Horizon School, Weizmann Day School, and the Peace & Justice Academy joined forces with muralist Monica Guzowski to paint two enormous murals on canvas to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning in Pasadena’s public elementary schools.

The project took shape after the Peace & Justice Academy was awarded two small grants. One was from the Pasadena Gun Buy Back Program with the intent to reach across boundaries and create bridges. The other came from Pasadena Rotary Club specifically to do a mural for a public school. The art was designed with Jackson Elementary School in mind and it is hoped that the murals will eventually be hung there.

This was the first time that the three schools had tackled a project together, and some of the students came with low expectations. Many of them had been involved in previous “interfaith” projects in which the emphasis was on the differences among them. This project, in contrast, was an opportunity to get to know each other and have fun. Alec Weissman, a 7th grader at Weizmann Day School, enjoyed the teambuilding games that were part of the day’s activities. He admitted that at the beginning of the day he stuck pretty close to his friends, but after the games, they split up and he made new friends. Said Alec, “I like the feeling of the religions coming together. It’s symbolic.”

Muralist Monica Guzowski cleans up after the work is done.

Abdullah Hasan, Noor Hasan (no relation) and Layla Karam, all 8th graders from New Horizons, were very happy with how fast the time flew. Abdullah said, “They say that time flies when you are having fun, right? Well, it flew today!” Noor admitted that in the beginning she, too, looked for her friends, but by the end of the day, “I couldn’t tell which people were from which school.” Layla enjoyed painting and getting to know new people. She reported that when the Muslim students stopped for midday prayers, they invited anyone who was interested to watch. Several of the Jewish students were astonished that they could understand some of the words in the prayers.

The 60 middle school students were divided into four groups of 15 each. They worked on the murals in rotation, and when they weren’t painting they were playing games like Human Knot and Magic Bamboo, or getting some idea of what high school life is like at the Peace & Justice Academy Interfaith High School from upperclassmen Jacob Lightfoot and Casey Gibson.

The students from the Peace & Justice Academy were put in charge of various parts of the day. Kayla Rice and Nathaniel Hur organized and taught the games. Kayla enjoyed her leadership role and was amazed at how quickly the students learned the games. “The games are all about learning to work together towards a common goal. All the students learned really fast.”

Randy Christopher, co-executive director of the Peace & Justice Academy, thought the day went really well. “We have a tradition here at PAJA. After we do a collective project like this one, we come together for a moment to share what was most meaningful about the experience. So many of the students said the two words we wanted to hear: fun and community. That was the whole idea. Everyone is committed to doing this again.”

For more information about the Peace & Justice Academy Interfaith High School, go to



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