Raining Peace

By on

Plymouth Students return home from NYC after successful Peace Project

Despite the cold and rain more than 180 students from Pioneer Middle School in Plymouth, Michigan, descended upon the streets of New York City to spread their message of peace and promote the Pioneer Peace Project as planned on Friday, April 3, 2009.

The torrential downpour didn’t dampen the spirits of the resilient peace spreaders as they marched through the busy itinerary and stayed true to their mission to engage others in their views of peace.

“Despite the weather the Peace Project was a huge success,” said Ben McMurray, assistant principal at Pioneer and one of the three Project creators.  “In the pouring rain the students lifted the spirits of hundreds of thousands of people during their visit to New York. Everywhere we went in New York people were asking our students about the Peace Project. The seeds of peace have been planted.”

To start the morning off, the young peace activists from Pioneer were featured on the CBS Early Show. There the show’s weatherman Dave Price and hosts Maggie Rodriguez and Harry Smith talked and laughed with the students before airing a short segment where Pioneer English and performing arts teacher Claire Swisher talked about the “Peace it Forward” program.

Flying high from the Early Show exposure the group traveled to the historic Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park where they listened to fellow students give speeches, read poetry, and enjoyed a rousing rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine by classmates Alyssa Blomquist and Danielle Allen.  Representatives from ShelterBox, Putumayo World Music and Junior Tours—all organizations that helped sponsor the event—also talked to the crowd.

Children’s book author and illustrator Todd Parr, whose work “The Peace Book” inspired the Pioneer Peace Book, wrapped up the ceremony with a short speech about the importance of the event. 

Even though honored guest Yoko Ono didn’t make the celebration due to the weather conditions, the students’ spirits remained high for the next leg of the tour. 

The students broke into smaller groups and headed off to three destinations—Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station and the Time Warner Center—to read from and pass out more than 300 copies of “The Peace Book”—donated by publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers—to random New Yorkers and visitors. 

All the students requested in return is that the recipients help spread the message of peace and “Peace it Forward.”  The eighth graders ask that the copies of the book get passed along to family and friends or even strangers and recorded on the Peace Project website where the path of the books can be followed.

Along with every book, the students gave away a free “Peace Bag,” courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen that contained promotional materials—CDs, DVDs, buttons, stickers and more—from 20-plus peace-oriented organizations, corporations and individuals.  California Pizza Kitchen also provided lunch for the hard-working group.  Parr finished off the day with a book signing at Union Square Barnes & Nobel.

Swisher, also one of the Peace Project coordinators, said the students came back as changed individuals.

“They were exposed to a community that is different from the one in which they live, but they come to realize that we are all searching for similar things,” she said.  “As teachers we see them become global citizens.  They become aware of the world around them and recognize that we are all striving for the same things.  Our students return more independent and self-assured; they have just conquered a bustling city on their own. As we watch them interact with the city during our stay, we see them become more confident and daring—they are New Yorkers.”

The Peace Project is the apex of a yearlong curriculum concept centered on peace and concludes with an art show at the Plymouth Arts Council, according to Carmen Johnson, a visual arts teacher at Pioneer and one of the founders of the Peace Project.

Todd Parr, author and illustrator of “The Peace Book” that inspired the Pioneer Peace Project, talks to the crowd at Naumburg Bandshell during the kick-off peace celebration on Friday, April 3, 2009. “We are so excited to continue to spread our message of peace in Plymouth with our annual photojournalism art show that will be exhibited at the Plymouth Arts Council,” she said.  “We will display student photos, poems and journal entries that will highlight our student trip to NYC. The artwork will express the theme of peace and capture the essence of New York.”

Johnson added that the exhibit would include artwork by Plymouth-Canton second graders created in collaboration with Parr earlier in the school year. 

“This exhibit will be a beautiful culmination of a yearlong peace initiative,” Johnson said.

McMurray added that the Pioneer Peace Project would be bigger and better next year.

To ensure the success of this year’s event and the growth of future Pioneer Peace Projects, the coordinators are looking for more sponsors and donations.  For more information about making a donation visit the Peace Project website at Project Peace website or contact Ben McMurray at Pioneer Middle School at (734) 416-2774 or mcmurrb@pccs.k12.mi.us.

Sponsors committed to the 2009 project included: Yoko Ono; Imagine Peace; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; California Pizza Kitchen; ShelterBox; Peace One Day; Putumayo World Music; Oxfam; Share Our Strength; Souls 4 Soles; Teaching Tolerance; American Library Association; Arbor Day Foundation; UNICEF; One; Pennies for Peace; Project Vote Smart; Amnesty International; Arbor Day Foundation; American Community Garden Association; American Council for the Teachers of French; and American Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages, Discovering Languages.

For more information about the Pioneer Peace Project please visit the Ning website.


Photo 1 by Julie Novak, J2 Concepts; Photos 2 and 3 by Jeff Novak, J2 Concepts.