Around this time last year I was well into my second year of teaching and trying to hold on to the momentum I gained in my first year. Most people will tell you that the first year of teaching is the toughest year ever but my experience has proven my toughest year to be my second. I think it was the combination of a really challenging batch of kids and me agreeing to take on everything I possibly could (ESOL endorsement, Critical Friends Training, and Math Club to name a few.)
Any teacher can tell you that it is right around October when the “Honey Moon Period” ends and behaviors begin to show. Last October the Honey Moon Period ended and in came a tremendous amount of craziness. I was overwhelmed in every sense of the word and I could feel that other teachers at my school were too. I saw that my school had a problem and I wanted to fix it. I felt that many students (especially those with behavior problems) were not being supported enough emotionally.
Now here at Mimosa we have 2 counselors who do a terrific amount of work and I cannot imagine two people who offer any more support anywhere else. But in the classrooms I noticed that time that used to be spent on Morning Meetings and collaborative or team building experiences was now being spent frantically cramming Common Core Curriculum into student’s brains before the CRCT.
This frenzy of academia and lack of community goes against everything I stand for as an educator and more specifically — an art educator. I believe that the purpose of education is to create decent human beings who can be successful in the world. How can we expect our students to be good adults if we are not taking the time to teach them how to make the community a better place and how to appreciate the human experience here on Earth? School should not be all about grades and data and standards — there is so much more to it just as there is so much more to life.
So during a run one sunny autumn afternoon last year I conceptualized the idea for Peace Day. It was to be a day where traditional classroom learning was put on hold and the focus shifted to community, collaboration, and emotional needs. With the help of the school counselors, we planned (and planned and planned and planned and planned and. . . .) our event. We had our initial run in February and it was a whirlwind and a success.
Fast forward to this school year and we did it again! This time we didn’t start from scratch (which really helped!) and we had a dedicated team of teachers who joined our committee. Together we executed another amazing event.
From the packet given to the teachers:
The purpose of this day is to promote character growth and development through team building activities and community service projects. Today is a day where Mimosa staff and students can come together and experience something great. The success of this day depends on the dynamic of your group and it all starts with you. What are you looking to get out of this day and how can you encourage your group to make the most of it? This is a chance to bond, learn, and grow together in an incredibly unique and meaningful learning experience!
So how does it work?
Well, Mimosa students and staff are split up into 6 houses (kinda like in Harry Potter.) On Peace Day, 2 adults and about 20 kids from each house split into groups and travelled around the school to participate in team building and community learning activities. Each group included students ranging from pre-K all the way to 5th grade. It was a great bonding experience and a great chance for the older kids to be leaders and role models for the younger ones.
The activities were designed to engage students in a meaningful and impactful way through working together to help the community. The activities included:
- Creating care packages (with supplies brought in by students and donated by Target) to help homeless people (benefiting United Way and the Regional Commission on Homelessness.)
- Creating artwork (also benefiting United Way)
- Making a Peace Ring
- Writing thank-you letters to service men and women (benefiting Bert’s Big Thank You at Q100)
- Buddy Reading with a book buddy
- Creating a Banner for your house
- Team Building / Icebreaker activities
- Exploring career paths with an Ipad QR code scavenger hunt
- Nature Scavenger Hunt / School Beautification and Clean Up
- Planting around the school (flowers and supplies donated by Home Depot)
Each group followed a schedule which included recess and lunch. The groups travelled to different classrooms which were set up with the materials and supplies needed to complete an activity.
The care packages were simply Ziploc bags filled with toiletry items such as toothbrushes and soap. Most of the items were brought in by students during the weeks leading up to Peace Day.
Creating Artwork for Formerly Homeless People
United Way works with many local organizations to place formerly homeless people in housing. However once these individuals have a home it is often empty and lonely. The goal of this activity was to create artwork to brighten up someone’s home.
Making a Peace Ring
The base of the Peace Rings are hula hoops. Students wrote peaceful messages or reflected about Peace Day and added their flag to the ring. They were then hung in the cafeteria on display.
A Big Thank You
The letters will be sent to local radio show Q100. Their goal is to send a “thank you” to every service man or woman in the armed forces for thanksgiving.
This activity was a huge hit! The team in the media center graciously lent us books about peace and kindness for students to read to one another.
Each house is a word in another language that stands for a character trait we wish our students to have (for example I am in Heshima which means “respect.” Other houses are Arlighet, Chen Xin, Ubuntu, Wajibu, and Tookindel.) Each House created a banner where the students decorated peace signs and wrote what their house trait means and how they show it.
These activities were super fun and silly and great icebreakers. Students had to work as a team to pass a hula hoop around in a circle and line up from shortest to tallest without talking.
Career Scavenger Hunt
Students learned all about careers and contemplated their own career path with a QR code scavenger hunt. They scanned the QR codes and explored different fields. They talked about jobs and careers with their groups.
Nature Scavenger Hunt and School Clean Up
Groups went outside and cleaned up trash around the school campus. They also participated in a nature scavenger hunt and talked about what it means to respect nature and the environment.
We were fortunate enough to receive a generous donation of planting seeds and supplies from Home Depot. Students made the front of the school beautiful and learned they had a “green thumb” in this activity.
Overall, Peace Day was amazing. I heard so many examples of students becoming shining stars and leading their group – students who normally fade into the background or are prone to misbehavior. It was so wonderful to see the school come together and participate in something bigger than ourselves, making an impact on the community and the world. My hope is that this idea takes off and ultimately Peace Day is a nationwide or even worldwide event that all students and schools can participate in. I truly believe that this day is something special and meaningful and will provide students with an empathy and sensitivity to each other and the world.