Peace Leaders: strive to improve, honor good acts, offer help, stop harm and blame, make amends, and find trusted guides (the six keys of peace). So simple, even an elementary school student could be a Peace Leader. Or not so simple if we don’t practice every day. In fact, at Cambria Grammar School, peace leadership is a way of life.
According to Kathy Quigley, the program coordinator, “The Peace Leader program is part of the school atmosphere.”
Originally, April Benham, now retired, was Quigley’s co-coordinator. Now that responsibility has passed to Sarah Moore.
Reacting to the tragic shooting at Columbine High School, Dennis Embry began the Peace Leader program. The effort was to promote community building and to teach anti-bullying techniques in schools. A number of teachers and parents from Cambria went to training sessions and brought the program to the Grammar School. Rather than a passing fad, this program not only exists still, but is embedded in the school culture more than a decade later.
Quigley noted, “Teachers are dedicated to the underlying philosophies because they promote a safe learning environment.”
Long-tenured teachers are the keepers of the flame, and new teachers jump right in as eager participants.
The first thing anyone entering the school office sees is a banner with the Peace Promise that is hung just above the front desk. When students enter their classrooms, teachers greet them at the door. The greetings range from hugs for the kindergartners to high-fives and fist bumps for the fifth-graders. But the intent is the same. The classroom is a place that values each student as an individual.
While the teachers maintain the environment, Peace Leadership is all about the students. From kindergarten they are taught dispute-resolution techniques and take responsibility to keep the peace on the playground and throughout the school.
Fifth-graders are chosen for the Peace Council. Groups of six are selected on a rotating basis through the school year. It is their responsibility to lead Peace Rallies during Friday morning assemblies. At these rallies, students are honored for observing the rules and using the language of peace.
Throughout the year, there are various contests: for instance, Peaceful Playgrounds, where students are awarded raffle tickets. The prizes awarded through the raffles generally are playground equipment for the winning students’ classrooms. So the whole class shares in the winner’s commitment to the program.
Another annual event is “Mix it up Day.” On that day, students are expected to sit in the cafeteria with someone they normally wouldn’t share lunch with. During this time, they are asked to learn about their table mates. This promotes a sense of connection. Especially when younger kids sit with older ones.
The program also encourages outreach. One year, students raised $1,600 through a “Pennies for Peace” effort. The funds went toward building schools in underdeveloped areas. They have also worked with Meals on Wheels.
The ultimate test of the Peace Leader program’s success, is that the students take their skills with them as they move on to middle school.
Quigley noted that “the language carries over.”
Indeed, conflict resolution and community building are skills that last a lifetime. For Cambrians, these lessons start in kindergarten.