Caren Stelson



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Creating a School Culture of Peace: How to …

Last month, I had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing Scenic Heights Elementary School in Minnetonka, Minnesota to speak to their fifth grade stu­dents about Sachiko. There was some­thing unusu­al about how the kids respond­ed to my pre­sen­ta­tion describ­ing Sachiko’s life as a sur­vivor of the Nagasaki atom­ic bomb and her path­way to peace. Only ten and eleven, these fifth graders “got” the impor­tance of Sachiko’s sto­ry. They asked deep and empa­thet­ic  ques­tions. They con­tin­ued to ask me ques­tions even after an hour of sit­ting, even when their class was dis­missed, even through my web­site email the next day. What was hap­pen­ing at Scenic Heights Elementary? I was curi­ous to find out what.

I asked fifth grade teacher Summer Wood and media cen­ter spe­cial­ist Melinda Barry to describe the peace pro­gram at Scenic Heights.

(A World Citizen peace pole. Full dis­clo­sure, Caren Stelson is a board mem­ber of that organization.)

In 1996, Scenic Heights became an International Peace Site and an ear­ly mem­ber of World Citizen, a non­prof­it peace edu­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tion. In the words of teacher Summer Wood, “…since then the con­cept of peace has con­tin­ued to keep the school ground­ed.” But it takes more than a peace pole to estab­lish a school cul­ture of peace. It takes vision, com­mit­ment, and tan­gi­ble pro­gram­ming through­out the school, through­out the year.

Media Center Specialist Melinda Barry and Caren Stelson
Caren Stelson and 5th grade teacher Summer Wood

I real­ize not every school has the resources avail­able to Scenic Heights, but every school can cre­ate a vision of peace and com­mit to work­ing toward it. How does the staff at Scenic Heights work toward their vision of peace?

I asked teacher Summer Wood if she and her fifth graders would team with me to write this blog to help describe the peace pro­gram at their school. Summer agreed and so did her kids. The stu­dents’ per­spec­tives were crit­i­cal. Who else but the kids could best explain the impact of their school’s peace pro­gram on them?

To begin, I emailed Summer five ques­tions. For each ques­tion, Summer wrote a short answer then added the stu­dents’ own respons­es along with their self-portraits. The respons­es are ten­der, heart­felt, and worth the scroll down to read the entire blog. Enjoy!

When I was at Scenic Heights I learned that every day stu­dents at Scenic Heights say a pledge for peace. What is that pledge? What do you think about when you say the peace pledge? Do you think it helps make the school a bet­ter place to be? Can you explain your thoughts about this? — Caren

Peace Pledge:
I am a peace maker.
I treat myself and oth­ers with respect.
I listen.
I share.
I care for the Earth, air, water, plants and animals.
I am impor­tant in this very big world.
I know peace begins with me.


  • When I say the pledge I feel calm and relaxed. Saying the peace pledge makes us feel joy and peace when we are hav­ing a rough day. It makes us feel safer, in a school of peace and love. — Marin
  • When I say the peace pledge, I think of peace­mak­ers, such as Gandhi and Malala, and what they did to make the world a bet­ter place. — Anna
  • I think that the peace pledge helps us every morn­ing by remind­ing us to be peace­ful to oth­ers. — Kennedy 
  • I think the peace pledge helps us notice how we can help oth­ers. — Nicole
  • I think about all the ani­mals and plants and trees and all of nature and the peace in the world. — Delaney
  • I think the pledge helps us think more about peace and oth­er peo­ple the pledge is about peace, learn­ing and think­ing. — Kimyra 
  • I think the peace pledge is to make you think about peace and how to make the world a bet­ter place. — Andrew
  • When I say the peace pledge I think of mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. — Meredith
  • I think it helps some peo­ple as in the peo­ple that say like they mean it and makes me feel bet­ter. — Addy
  • When I say the peace pledge I think about mak­ing my school and the world a bet­ter place. — Rory
  • I think the piece pledge it make you think about what you can do to make the world a bet­ter place. — Peter


When I was at Scenic Heights I learned that Scenic Heights has an “anti-bullying pro­gram.” What does “anti-bullying” mean to you? Can you give an exam­ple of what you’ve learned? Does your school’s anti-bullying pro­gram give you courage to stop oth­ers from bul­ly­ing? — Caren

*We cur­rent­ly use the OLWEUS cur­ricu­lum to teach stu­dents about bul­ly pre­ven­tion. We also have a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) team at our school that helps to devel­op lessons and offer sug­ges­tions and learn­ing tools for all staff to use. This year we have a full time social work­er and two part time coun­selors. The coun­selors come in to the class­room once a month to teach SEL lessons to each class.

Each Friday, on the morn­ing school news sta­tion, we recite the anti-bullying rules:

“We will not bul­ly others.

We will treat oth­ers with respect.

If we know that some­one is being bul­lied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.”

  Summer Wood

  • Anti-bullying to me, is mak­ing sure nobody feels left out, or afraid to be who they tru­ly are. I’ve learned that there is still so much bul­ly­ing, but we can save the vic­tims of bul­ly­ing. By help­ing them feel safe and want­ed. Our school’s Anti-bullying pro­gram has giv­en me more than enough courage to stand up against bul­ly­ing. — Marin
  • To me anti-bullying means to stick up for oth­ers and be KIND to peo­ple and to spread love not hate. I think our anti-bullying pro­gram stops peo­ple from buy­ing because they know how hurt­ful and how much dam­age it can do to peo­ple. — Delaney
  • I think peo­ple bul­ly oth­ers because they are they are hurt­ing inside. I think are anti bul­ly­ing pro­gram helps stop bul­ly­ing. — Kennedy
  • I love the anti-bullying and if we did not have it I don’t think much peo­ple would want to go to school. — Addy
  • I read in a book once that the peo­ple who are bul­ly­ing some­one just need a lit­tle extra love, and I agree. So even if some­one is bul­ly­ing you, just try to be nice to them and they might change their atti­tude. — Anna
  • To me Anti-bullying means NO bul­ly­ing, No teas­ing, and NO ONE ever feel­ing sad and that if we stop bul­ly­ing the world will be that much hap­pi­er. — Olivia
  • Anti-bullying to me means stand­ing up for oth­ers who can’t stand up for them­selves. I have no exam­ple to share but the anti-bullying pro­gram has made me stand up for peo­ple. — Andrew
  • I think our schools Anti-bullying pro­gram is real­ly help­ful to stop bul­ly­ing. Anti-bullying means to me is to pre­vent bul­ly­ing. — Gus
  • Anti-bullying is a real thing and I think that the anti-bully pro­gram has made are school a bet­ter place. — Meredith
  • Anti-bullying I think is a great thing I think if every­one got the mes­sage the world would be a much bet­ter place. — Peter
  • I think it’s good because It helps peo­ple not get bul­lied as much com­pared to oth­er schools. — Rory
  • Anti-bullying I think is about peo­ple who don’t like each oth­er an exam­ple is “you’re real­ly ugly go sit some­where else” Anti-bullying should be for peo­ple to stand up to each oth­er. — Kimyra


When I was at Scenic Heights I learned that kids par­tic­i­pate in ser­vice projects. What kind of ser­vice projects have you and your class­mates been involved in? Has par­tic­i­pat­ing in ser­vice projects changed your think­ing about help­ing oth­ers? If so how? — Caren

  • Some of the ser­vice projects that we take part in are the ICA food dri­ve, col­lect­ing and donat­ing hats and mit­tens, Trick or Treat for Unicef, Toys for Tots, mak­ing com­fort kits for home­less shel­ters and the Pennies for Patients fundrais­er. Each grade lev­el usu­al­ly “takes on” a ser­vice project and pro­motes it school wide. At the peace assem­bly each year, stu­dents from each grade lev­el explain what the ser­vice project did and what the result was. It is pow­er­ful lis­ten­ing to stu­dents speak in both English and Chinese about the ser­vice they did. (Scenic Heights offers a Chinese immer­sion pro­gram) — Summer Wood


  • A ser­vice project I have done was mak­ing com­fort kits. We packed bags filled with soap, razors, deodor­ant, tooth­brush­es, tooth­paste, etc. We then gave the kits to home­less shel­ters. This project has def­i­nite­ly changed my think­ing about help­ing oth­ers. It makes me feel thank­ful for all the neces­si­ties we are able to afford. — Marin
  • A ser­vice project I have done is the com­fort kits where me and 5th grade class­es packed Towels, Toothpaste, Toothbrushes, etc. It changed my out­look on help­ing peo­ple. And also made me want to help out more with the home­less because I feel they should have some food in their bel­lies. — Andrew
  • Some ser­vice projects I have done with my class­mates are the Toys for Tots fundrais­er and the com­fort kits, which helped peo­ple at home­less shel­ters stay clean. Each one had a spe­cial quote or mes­sage inside to make them feel good. — Anna
  • My favorite ser­vice project was when we made food packs for fam­i­lies that had been hit by hur­ri­cane sandy. At the time I didn’t real­ly under­stand why we did it but now I do. Those people’s homes were destroyed they had nowhere to go and not a lot of food. And now I am so so so thank­ful for all I have and that I have a nice warm home to come to and in a good neigh­bor­hood. — Delaney
  • A ser­vice project I have par­tic­i­pat­ed in is the Toys for Tots fundrais­er. It has changed my life for­ev­er because I felt like I was real­ly giv­ing back to so many kids. — Meredith
  • A ser­vice project that I have done is toys for tots I think Toys for Tots for me is about help­ing oth­er kids who don’t have toys or fam­i­ly. — Kimyra
  • A ser­vice project that I have done is com­fort kits. Comfort kits is pack­ing soap, tooth­paste, tooth­brush and more. Being involved in ser­vice projects has made me feel bet­ter know­ing that I have helped peo­ple in need. — Gus
  • I always feel like it is good to do kind things for peo­ple. And the ser­vice projects do that. You can par­tic­i­pate in doing kind things for oth­er peo­ple. You can get togeth­er to give things that you think are just nor­mal to us but spe­cial to oth­ers. — Graham O.
  • We have done Feed My Starving Children and it makes you real­ly appre­ci­ate how lucky we are to live in such a good com­mu­ni­ty. — Peter
  • We do lots of ser­vice projects but I liked the com­fort kits and help­ing peo­ple get jobs. — Addy
  • When it was valen­tines we made kind­ness kits for home­less peo­ple I think that helped us think about kind­ness. — Kennedy


When I was at Scenic Heights I learned that your school has an envi­ron­men­tal learn­ing pro­gram. How do you think peace is relat­ed to learn­ing about and tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment? — Caren

  • We part­nered with the Three Rivers Park District, Richardson Nature Center send envi­ron­men­tal­ist to our school to help edu­cate the stu­dents three times each year. Once in the fall, win­ter, and spring. In 5th grade they do an inva­sive species les­son in the fall, win­ter sur­vival skills in the win­ter, and they bring rap­tors in the spring and talk about the rap­tors found in the area and how to help pro­tect them. The Outdoor Learning Center (OLC) is avail­able to teach­ers all year. This year my per­son­al goal was to get stu­dents con­nect­ed with nature more often. Most Wednesday’s my class does ‘Wilderness Wednesday’, which quick­ly became every­one’s favorite sub­ject. During this time we have gone for hikes, went “bowl­ing” with snow­balls, invent­ed new win­ter games, brought books to read, and have done a grat­i­tude prac­tice sit­ting in nature. It real­ly is amaz­ing to see what fresh air and the time for stu­dents to use their imag­i­na­tion can do. — Summer Wood
  • When I go to the OLC, I like to just stop and look around and see the hap­py birds and squir­rels play­ing in the trees and I like to smell the fresh smell of nature. If there was no peace the ani­mals would get mad and fight. And when we are in nature we need to respect the ani­mals and the plants and care for them, and if we didn’t the trees will be cut down and there will be no place for us to go and relax. — Delaney
  • I think peace is involved when we vis­it the OLC, because we are tak­ing care of the frag­ile plants and ani­mals. We learn to care and love for the earth we have. — Marin
  • I think peace is involved with the OLC because we learn how to take care of the plan­et and it’s oth­er inhab­i­tants such as humans, ani­mals and plants. — Andrew
  • I think that peace is involved in nature because it teach­es us car­ing for are envi­ron­ment and I think that most peo­ple will pass it on to their class­mates. — Meredith
  • You can just con­nect to nature and in the sum­mer it is a beau­ti­ful for­est and we can learn so much about nature and how to pro­tect it. — Peter
  • I think the OLC is involved with peace, because we learn about what we can do to take care of our plan­et. There’s only one plan­et suit­able for life so where would we go if we couldn’t take care of it cor­rect­ly? — Anna
  • Peace is involved in this because when you get to go out­side and do projects at the OLC you get respect, peace, and friends to work with. — Kimyra
  • You learn about tak­ing care of our plan­et. — Graham O.
  • The OLC is a place for us to learn about nature and how to take care of it. — Addy
  • I think that the OLC helps us think about not lit­ter­ing and pol­lut­ing the earth so that it stays great. — Kennedy


Do you think hav­ing a Scenic Heights peace pro­gram helps kids under­stand the impor­tance of Sachiko’s sto­ry, not only as a sto­ry of war but about a sto­ry of peace? What are your thoughts on this? — Caren

  • I think the peace pro­gram helps us under­stand Sachiko’s sto­ry, because we learn what pow­er peace can have on this world. We live in a world where destruc­tion and mess are around every cor­ner. But if we make peace in earth, then we can calm any storm. We are peace­mak­ers at this school. — Marin
  • I think the peace pro­gram helps us under­stand Sachiko’s sto­ry more. But at almost every cor­ner on this world mis­ery and destruc­tion but if WE change our ways in this world, our one and only world we can make this beau­ti­ful world so peace­ful. — Andrew
  • I think every 5th grad­er in the world should read Sachiko because it is a great his­tor­i­cal, peace­ful, and hard book to read. — Kennedy
  • I think it helps us under­stand peace, because so much of the sto­ry is war-torn and sad. It’s so refresh­ing to see peace peek through once in a while, and helps us under­stand its impor­tance. — Anna
  • Yes because we know what peace is and have that same long­ing for world­wide peace and now how we can be peace mak­ers and help make the world a bet­ter place for every­one. — Olivia
  • Yes because it tells peo­ple that any­one can make a dif­fer­ence. — Delaney
  • Yes, because Sachiko is a real­ly impor­tant per­son in this sto­ry and in oth­er people’s lives but I think we should ask Sachiko some ques­tions about us. — Kimyra
  • I think that the peace at our school has helped me with this book of under­stand­ing Sachiko’s sto­ry. — Meredith
  • I think the peace pro­gram helps our school under­stand Sachiko’s sto­ry and peace. — Graham O.
  • I think her sto­ry is real­ly touch­ing just under­stand­ing what she has been through. When we think of America we think of this per­fect coun­try but after you hear Sachiko’s sto­ry it makes you real­ize that America isn’t so per­fect. — Peter
  • Yes, if every­one knew they would prob­a­bly not take stuff for grant­ed that much. — Addy


Mahatma Gandhi said, If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the chil­dren. After vis­it­ing Scenic Heights Elementary and being awed by both the speech­es of the stu­dent sur­vivors at Parkland, Florida’s school shoot­ing and the recent nation-wide, youth-led “March for Our Lives,” I would revise Gandhi’s famous statement:


2 thoughts on “Creating a School Culture of Peace: How to …”

  1. Inspiring arti­cle. Thanks so much for your excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion of how peace sites work. Congrats to Ms. Berry, Ms. Wood and your­self for your fine exam­ple of pro­mot­ing peace!


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