International college students celebrate International Day of Peace with elementary and middle school students

09/18/12 Janelle Irwin
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Friday is the International Day of Peace. People all over the world celebrate the day with festivals, concerts and moments of silence. At an elementary and middle school in Pinellas County, they have a whole week’s worth of events. Joyce Reichle is the primary years program coordinator at James B. Sanderlin IB World School. She said students in all grades are talking with international students from Eckerd College about what happens in their home countries.

“We have them talk about peace. What does peace mean to them personally? How do you promote peace in your country and how do we celebrate peace through our artistry and our music.”

International Peace Day was first celebrated in 1982 after being ratified by the United Nations. It marked the UN’s commitment to world peace. Reichle said learning about other cultures is an important part of promoting peace.

“So, they come over to our school and they interact with all of our students and they share artifacts, they share things about their families, they share cultural things about their families and we share with them.”

Most of the college students who came to Sanderlin are in the U.S. learning English. One of them, Yasser Alghamdi is from Saudi Arabia. He said students asked him about the desert in his country and about the food he ate, but they spoke little of peace specifically. But Alghamdi thinks just sharing cultural differences – especially with youngsters – teaches tolerance.

“If you know people and just understand it you’ll just, I guess you have to know people to understand it – meet other cultures…yeah, it’s good.”

Alghamdi is in the U.S. amid rising tensions in Middle Eastern countries where some Muslims are out raged over an American-made film depicting their prophet in compromising positions. But Dylan Anderson, a 7th grade student at Sanderlin, bonded with the Saudi student over something that seemed to have nothing to do with peace at all.

“I learned that they don’t have Star Wars in Saudi Arabia!”

But it did get him thinking about things he and his parents can do to help put a stop to worldwide violence.

“You can take part in some organizations that help support peace and you can raise funds for charity – all sorts of things you can do.”

Other students like seventh-grader Sara Florez saw the issue on a smaller scale and considered things like bullying and teasing.

“I just think it’s really crazy that people hurt themselves. I don’t find sense in that. Then, peace is just – you have peace, you just need to get it out because we’re mean to each other all the time. So, I think peace is just being relaxed and being yourself and there’s no reason for violence to be all around.”

Sanderlin program coordinator Joyce Reichle said students are observing peace all week, but it’s a topic that’s never far from the curriculum.

“Everyday we talk about – how do we do things peacefully at our school? How are we caring? How are we thinking or considerate of other people? This seems to be a running idea or thought throughout our school.”

So for the rest of the week students will be talking and doing art projects.

“In one room I think they’re making peace doves. We’re doing peace links for peace – we’re making a big peace chain that we’ll be celebrating on Friday with our assembly. In the middle school they do a lot of conversation. In fifth grade they were being interviewed by our students – the Eckerd College students were interviewing our fifth graders and our fifth graders were interviewing them.”

Another 7th grade student at Sanderlin, Maya Thompson, is in a drama class. She and her peers are putting together testimonials where they talk about the meaning of peace.

Thompson moved with her mother to the United States from India after her father died. She gave a dramatically charged monologue where she describes her first day of school as being difficult because people assumed she couldn’t speak English well. But instead of continuing to be angry, Thompson said she decided to make the best of it.

Thompson, along with other students in the drama class will perform their testimonials on Friday’s International Day of Peace during a school assembly. Other students in the school will be singing songs they’ve learned in music class.

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