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Peace it Forward

Just left a pretty interesting session: Engaging the Community Through Photovoice

Pioneer Middle School in Michigan has been taking a group of 8th graders to NYC to shoot photographs and write poetry. Last year, they decided to focus on peace as their theme for the school year and their NYC trip. The students read Todd Parr's book, The Peace Book. There was a community service element (8th graders read The Peace Book with elementary school kids). The literacy component was continuing the poetry work that the students had started the previous year.

Two teachers, Claire Walton-Swisher and Carmen Johnson, worked with their assistant principal to grow their idea into a peace project. It seems to have worked. They got a lot of support locally and in NYC for their idea—both financially and conceptually. With the participation of author/artist Parr and others, they were able to develop a number of community partnerships that extended from the tour company that brought them to the city to Parr's publisher Little Brown.

With 500 copies of The Peace Book and a swag bag of peace-theme items (including peace buttons donated by Yoko Ono), 150 students traveled to the city with a few volunteer parents and their two teachers. They stood on street corners and read from the book, and handed out the peace bags. Those peace bags were later seen across town and asked for by a folks in the airport as the group traveled back to Michigan.

The students performed at the Band Shell in Central Park (in the pouring rain), interviewed random strangers, and still managed to keep travel journals, and take their photographs.They wrote their poetry back home.

Upon their return, the local arts center held an exhibit of the work. The 8th graders were empowered by their trip—in addition, to producing photos and writing poetry, they were also handed a lesson in self-confidence. Not always so easy to speak to random strangers on the streets of NYC. (The teachers did explain they had coached the parents a bit in advance on how to broker some of those conversations.)

They are headed back to NYC in 2010 between March 23-26 and yes, they are looking for partnering schools in NYC and beyond. The theme for 2010 is "green for today" and they are inviting everyone to join them in the city for next year's project.
Here's a few helpful sites.

Pioneer Peace Project
The Peace Project
Todd Parr's Web site

—Elizabeth Rich

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