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Pevely students create 'garden of love' for Ukrainian art teacher

"A lot of our students don’t know what’s going on but they know their teacher, their favorite teacher, was in need of extra love this week."

PEVELY, Mo. — There are connections to Ukraine all over the area, including at an elementary school in Jefferson County.

In between teaching art classes at Pevely Elementary, Ukraine native Arina McAllister tries to learn the latest.

"I do have my family there, many many friends. My heart is broken to see what's happening to my country and my people," she said with tears in her eyes.

Sitting behind the computer screen, she reads daily updates and she's decorated her desk with colorful sunflowers to give her warmth.

"Sunflower is important for Ukraine. That’s the symbol of our country. It’s a symbol of everything positive," McAllister explains. 

The creative art teacher was born and raised in Kyiv.

"Half of my life was spent there and I got my teaching degree there," she said. "I taught there for a few years. I have many beautiful memories there."

McAllister has been with Pevely Elementary for the last seven years. 

After the news of the invasion, it's been hard to see the light. So her students, brought it to her.

When McAllister came to school on Monday, she wasn't expecting the amount of support coming her way.

"I looked and noticed sunflowers and they were growing more and more every minute," she said with excitement. 

The idea was planted by one of their own faculty members.

"One of our cafeteria ladies came to us with this idea, so we can surprise her and support her in that way and in 10 minutes there was a flood of sunflowers," Principal Katie Dunlap said. "A lot of our students don’t know what’s going on but they know their teacher, their favorite teacher, was in need of extra love this week."

Dunlap said McAllister puts her love and artwork through the building every day.

Now, she got that in return. 

Credit: KSDK

Hundreds of McAllister's students expressed their love.

"We are trying to show her, we love and support her," fifth grader Alayna Singer said.

McAllister has always inspired her students. She just never thought the inspiration would be her this time. 

"I never expected to grow a garden of love," she said with tearful eyes. 

Sometimes, in the worst of moments, we see the best of people.

"By the time I was leaving school Monday, it was a shower of sunflowers, it was sun shower of love and support. I think every single sunflower represents love and support and I have hope. That make me feel stronger and more positive," McAllister said. 

The sunflower represents Ukraine and also some hope, McAllister can hold onto.

"All your prayers are helping people in Ukraine to be stronger," she points out. 

McAllister said she's been showing her loved ones in Ukraine photos of support including those makeshift sunflowers and the St. Louis buildings lit with blue and yellow lights.

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