Editor’s note: With global migration on the rise and cultural polarization increasing, there is a pressing need for peace among neighbors and nations. This article is part of the “Lutheran legacy of peacemaking” series, which explores Lutheran contributions to the Christian tradition of peacemaking. The series culminates in September in conjunction with the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21).
Students at Leif Ericson Day School in Brooklyn, a ministry of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, are learning that the peaceful way is the best way.
The 100 students, nursery through grade eight, will celebrate the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, starting with chapel and ending with a community pot-luck supper. They’ll put thumb prints on peace poles that flank the altar and read the peace pledge outside the school in the afternoon amid a garden of peace pinwheels that they made.
But the school doesn’t celebrate peace just on this one day. Peace is a year-round theme at the school, whose motto is: “Building a culture of peace; one day at a time, one student at a time.” The initiative began in 2005 when the school first celebrated the International Day of Peace.
“We’ve embraced the concept of peace,” said Principal Christine Hauge, a commissioned Christian day school educator, associate in ministry and deacon. “So many schools have a lot of anti-programs—anti-bullying campaigns for cyber-bullying, sexual-bullying and face-to-face. We looked on the other side. Instead of being anti-bullying, we promote peace. It fits in with what Jesus wants for us … I give you my peace, peace be with you.”
In addition to the peace poles that flank the altar in the school’s sanctuary, and peace events, students are taught to take the peaceful solution, Hauge said. They’re taught to respect the Golden Rule of treating others the way they want to be treated.
“Instead of being anti-bullying, we promote peace. It fits in with what Jesus wants for us … I give you my peace, peace be with you.”
“We encourage them to make peaceful choices,” Hauge added. “If you’re angry with someone, you can tell them in a peaceful way. You can say, ‘I didn’t like that you said this to me. Can we talk about it?’ You don’t go and smack someone.”
Students are also taught, she said, to use peaceful language and not be obnoxious to others. “Our culture and language has changed so much.”
When students are seen doing something good, like helping someone, tidying up a classroom, or making a peaceful choice, they earn peace slips. When they get to 10 peace slips, the older students can trade them for a day not to wear a uniform, and younger ones can pick from a treasure chest of goodies.
The peaceful way is so popular with students, said Hauge, that one mother told her she could no longer yell at her kids for misbehaving because they call her out for not being peaceful.
Graduate John Powers, now a high school freshman studying acting at the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan, was a peace-slip recipient many times over the years, most recently for tutoring a fourth-grader in social studies.
“I believe that through the power of acting and sharing stories with others, I’ll be able to share the word of Jesus and peace,” he said.
John added that he sees fellow students not taking the peaceful path all the time. “I think they’re going wrong by not making the right decisions and by idolizing violent video games, etc. Playing games once in a while isn’t horrible, but making them an idol—I don’t think that’s good.”
He also respects the Golden Rule. “If I had a classmate and I wasn’t’ treating them nicely—and they didn’t treat me nicely—it’s not a good thing to do. We need to put ourselves before others,” he said.
For John, Leif Ericson was a formative place for academic and personal growth. “I loved my time at day school,” he said. “The sense of family, happiness, peace and giving is very strong.”