By Whitney Vickers
YELLOW SPRINGS — Mills Lawn Elementary School children took to the streets of Yellow Springs Wednesday while Beatles song “All You Need is Love,” played in the background and they chanted, “Peace is better than violence.”
It is the school’s third annual Peace Week, which was just declared a resolution by Yellow Springs Village Council. All of the children marched around the block as they held paper-plate signs with varying peace signs designed on them. Most wore white to symbolize cooperation; throughout the other five days of the school week, they are being encouraged to wear other colors on certain days to symbolize values, such as honesty, respect, responsibility and personal best.
Peace Week was started by Mills Lawn Elementary School Guidance Counselor John Gudgel and Principal Matt Housh as a means of promoting peace and combating bullying. Three years ago, Gudgel and Housh spent time considering the typical route society takes while dealing with relationships and bullying and didn’t feel that it was effective.
“We thought there would be a better way to approach it — not by being negative or singling out an evil bully, but instead by talking to the entire school about creating peace, what peace looks like and how we engineer peace everyday and demystify the whole bullying thing,” Housh said.
Its first year included artisan residents assisting Mills Lawn in creating art that currently hangs in the library based on influential peacemakers; the second year included a peace wall. Housh and Gudgel are already considering what event will take place next year to highlight Peace Week. It includes classroom activities in which students are presented with vocabulary and other skills related to Peace Week’s values.
“Kids are beginning to use their conflict resolution skills without assistance from adults,” Gudgel said. “Sometimes we can present them in an environment where they can dialogue and resolve conflict on their own and that’s one of the biggest goals of this peace project movement. It’s really inspirational when kids can understand and can act out and apply those skills.”
After the parade, the children gathered in the school for a pep rally, which included the fifth and sixth grade choir singing “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
Village Manager Patti Bates and three Yellow Springs Police Officers additionally presented the village’s resolution to all of the rally’s attendees. The students, starting with those who wore stilts or pulled a wagon behind them during the parade, left the pep rally in a “peace train” as “Love Train” by The O’Jays and “Why Can’t We be Friends” by War played behind them.
“The village is very supportive of peace,” Bates said. “There are a lot of activities associated with the Village of Yellow Springs that promote peace and so this is one more element of what the village feels is important and the schools, of course, are incredibly important to us.”
Housh and Gudgel are hopeful that Mills Lawn students will take the skills learned during Peace Week and use them each day. Gudgel said earlier in the week he received an email from a parent expressing that a student was experiencing a conflict at home, but was taking steps in resolving such on their own. Housh said if other communities are interested in Mills Lawn’s efforts in creating this event, they are free to contact him.
“I think it’s important for them (students) to realize that we are all in this together and there are not certain people who are bad or bullies — everyone does well and makes mistakes sometimes — so we have to learn that we are all in this together and that we have to solve things and not separate but come together when conflict arises,” Housh said.