- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) - Five enthusiastic students at Kahakai Elementary School stood in front of a large mural where hand-painted pictures of monk seals shined on a 4-foot-by-8-foot canvass behind them.

The young scholars spent more than two months crafting the drawings of the endangered species and joyfully expressed their knowledge and pride of the animal and a mural that has taken on a life of its own, West Hawaii Today reported (https://bit.ly/1F0cAU4) on Tuesday.

“We made the mural because we wanted to try to save the Hawaiian species of the monk seals. They are a part of our culture,” said Andrey Sawinski, a fourth-grader at Kahakai Elementary.

“The monk seal is very native to Hawaii and is a majestic animal,” said Sawinski’s classmate, Taylor Bear.

The mural portrays painted blocks with pictures of monk seals inside them. The drawings are supported by a bright, ocean-blue background and each seal is different with its own set of eyes that fourth-grader Brooke Aragon described as “windows to their soul.”

There’s also a small mirror within the mural that Aragon explained is to show the viewer that “you’re the missing piece.”

The mural recently left the school to go to the Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo. When the Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Visitor Center is completed, the artwork will travel there. Plans are also in the works for the piece to go to Maui and Oahu.

So how did these 9-year-olds decide to create a painting that is now in high demand?

The idea came after a volunteer from the West Hawaii Marine Mammal Response Network gave a presentation on the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal to Tracy Foyle’s fourth grade class.

Foyle said after her students heard about the mammal and its struggles, they felt compelled to share the monk seal’s story with the rest of the world.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the Hawaiian monk seal was listed as an endangered species in 1976 under the federal Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat was designated in 1988 from beaches to a depth of 120 feet around the northwestern Hawaiian islands.

The students learned these facts and more and were inspired by the animal’s story. So from there, the students in Foyle’s class spent two months creating their masterpiece. Many of the children gave up their recesses and free time to work on the project.

“They gave up all their free time. It was amazing. They just kept going,” Foyle said.

And the project was a first for many, she said.

“Some of the students said they’ve never painted before so it scared them but they kept at it. They never gave up,” she said.

An artist from Susun Gallery in Kona also assisted the students with the project. Coupled with the painting is a book of poems that the children wrote about the monk seals, as well.

Kona Trans volunteered to take the mural from Kahakai to Mokupapapa on Monday and Foyle said the students were sad to see it go.

But as Kahakai fourth-grader Peyton Winkel explained earlier last week, the mural is meant for others to see.

“I hope this mural goes around the world for centuries and makes a difference,” he said.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, https://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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