Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Peace Rocks at the 186th Street School

“…it isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Marcia Sidney-Reed, the principal at the 186th Street School in Gardena, California talks, believes, and works at peace. A lot. So do the staff, families, and students at 186th Street. Around every corner and in almost every room on the school's campus, one finds another mural, poster, or sign that talks about their commitment to peace and peacemaking. A school with a focus on peacemaking is different from a focus on social emotional learning or character. As critical as SEL is to improved school climate and academic achievement - and there is considerable research that says precisely this - peacemaking means using the skills of social emotional learning to showcase children, adults, families, and communities as active and visible agents of change.

In addition to the Peacemaker Projects - led by college and parent volunteers, in partnership with the classroom teachers - the school also highlights its student peacemakers at the annual Peace March, a community-wide event scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day in January. This past year was the fourth annual Peace March. The event includes an outdoor assembly which more resembles a peace rally (complete with the release of doves), after which the school marches through the neighborhood with homemade signs showcasing their commitment to peacemaking. At the end of the march, community partners wait to greet students and shake the hands of student peacemakers as they parade back into the school.

This year, the school was featured in a new book, Colors of Love and Peace. Featured prominently on the book's cover is just one of several murals on the school's campus: a celebration of peacemakers (Gandhi, King, Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, and of course "you"). Compiled and edited by Fereidun Shokatfard, whose wife is a teacher at 186th Street, the book shows off an array of remarkable student art, juxtaposed with encouraging words and advice from the artists for children in the hosptial. The hope, as Ms. Reed explained, was to have people buy the book and then donate it to a local children's hospital. Some of their advice includes "I hope you get better so you can go to Waterpark City" (Dominic Tabin, Kindergarten), "The lion protects the jungle and the doctor will protect you" (Shirley Gomez, Grade 3), "Don't watch too much T.V." (Carlos Becerra, Grade 4), "We live in a beautiful world. I hope you feel better" (Breana Perez, Grade 2), "Be proud of yourself for who you are" (Luis Villafana, Grade 5), and appropriately for a book of art, "Doing art makes you feel great" (Guadalupe Marmolejo, Grade 1). The book also features an audio CD from the International Children's Choir of Long Beach and a foreword by the Dalai Lama, who wrote that the book "represents a delightful and inspiring project created by young peacemakers." Naturally, all of the proceeds are going to charity.

Building a peaceable school is no small task. It means not only reducing the number of fights or suspensions, but changing the way that students and other members of the school community see themselves and each other. In fact, it is more like a vocation than a task, and like a vocation, it is our life's work. School success is measured by many metrics - the grades on a report card, the gold stars on a behavior chart, the scores on a standardized test - but for Ms. Reed and the community at 186th Street there is another question that frames success. It is painted in bright yellow on the mural featured on the cover of Colors of Love and Peace: Are you a peacemaker?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW! This is powerful! Kudos to Ms. Reed for her vision and the inspiration she is being to her school community! Blessings to the peacemakers and their families. I look foward to receiving the ambassadors for peace at Peary Middle School - a school that C.A.R.E.S.
Character + Attitude + Respect + Education = Success!
Dr. Garrett, Principal - Peary Middle School