Peace Games

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My heart has been heavy for months now. So many tragedies, so much divisiveness and hatred in the world, making me wonder if peace and justice can ever be achieved.  It’s easy to lose hope, to falter when things seem impossibly bleak.

Yet, every day I’m reminded of courageous acts, of people taking a stand against injustice, intolerance, and the threat of losing what is precious.  I’m heartened, for example, by those who embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, or stand with the water protectors at Standing Rock, or march to ensure women’s rights.  These brave acts of conscience remind me that change comes not just from believing in a cause, but in actively working toward peace and justice for all.

Here at The Growing Peace Project we work hard to develop the skills and courage to effect positive social change.  From the personal to the global we explore critical themes such as conflict, citizenship, empowerment, relationships, and collaboration.  Underpinning these themes is what my colleague Amanda calls our “ripple”:  How does our every action ripple out to the world, and what positive and negative results might occur from those ripples?  Looking through that lens helps us to better identify our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world.

All of these concepts were so wonderfully evident this past summer at our 6th annual student leadership retreat, in ways that even we organizers had not expected.  I’m beyond proud of our students for their thoughtful and impassioned engagement in the challenges we presented to them.

Amanda and I had decided to try something completely new for this retreat.  Typically we help our students implement local action plans that address issues they care about – bullying, food insecurity, drug abuse, police brutality.  These action plans bring an urgency to the issues, and the students are empowered by knowing they can do something to help their communities.  But this time we decided to broaden our scope and work on global issues, and we chose to do that through games.  It was a big departure for us, and a risky one. But the outcome was just so stellar, we couldn’t have been more pleased or impressed.

Each group’s task was to create a game that addressed global issues within the following framework:

  • Create a fictional country divided into 5 regions that differ geographically
  • Select a problem for each region (such as insufficient food, civil war, or pollution)
  • Select at most 2 resources for each region (such as natural gas, clean water, or an educated citizenry)
  • Attach values to each resource, considering how regions might work together to get what they need in order to thrive
  • Incorporate real-world organizations that might help with specific issues (such as the United Nations)
  • The game is won when all 5 regions of the country are at peace

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To help the groups get started we provided a modified template based on the Cycle of Change work they had done throughout the year. We had anticipated their efforts might stall as problems arose, and we wanted to give them a framework for resolving conflict.  To our delightful surprise they never used it!  Their ability to discuss, reach consensus, divide up tasks, test and modify ideas, and build a creative and workable game were just so impressive.  They not only trusted and respected one another, they also knew when to ask for help from Tori and Kelly (our awesome counselors), or from Amanda and me.  Moreover, their conversations as they grappled with real-world issues were both interesting and illuminating.  How, for example, might civil war affect crime rates and poverty, or the need for medical care and education?  What impact might a corrupt government have on the health of its citizens and region?  Difficult issues, which they handled beautifully with thoughtful discussion and rational argument.

The result: A better feel for the myriad factors that contribute to the health and well-being of a society.  Not to mention some cool games we can take on the TGPP road!

Thank you, Peace Growers, for your amazing work!

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For more photos, see our Facebook album 2016 Peaceful Games.

(Many thanks to John Hunter, whose World Peace Game inspired our retreat focus.)

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Why I Care

I have been an educator my entire adult life, first as a classroom teacher, then as an educational consultant specializing in mathematics.  I have always loved math, particularly enjoying its elegance as a beautiful and powerful tool.  As a teacher I’ve long maintained that a math program that puts problem solving at the heart of inquiry cultivates skills that go far beyond the classroom, giving learners the competence and confidence to tackle just about anything.  I believe deeply in teaching for understanding, for empowerment, for challenging the status quo, for questioning everything. That’s how I approached my teaching career, and tried to run my classrooms and consulting business.

Eight years ago I began to get restless. Oh I still loved consulting, still got a thrill when kids or teachers felt empowered by the skills they were developing, by understanding their unique strengths, by learning from each other.  And I still do.  But something was missing, and it took me two years and many conversations with my most trusted loved ones to put a finger on it.  It was this:

I needed to actually dive into this world beyond the classroom, this place where all the problem solving skills I was teaching in math could be applied to real problems. I needed to help kids do that, but more importantly I wanted to bear witness to their finding the power of their own voices to address the social problems they cared about.  And so, The Growing Peace Project was born.

For the past six years of TGPP I have had the great good fortune to work with hundreds of kids across several states. I’ve watched them grow, listened as they tackled big ideas, and marveled as they came up with creative ways of addressing the world’s problems. I’ve seen kids whose paths likely never would have crossed embrace each other in friendship and peace.  And I’ve worked alongside and been blessed with support from phenomenal teachers, community members, foundations, and individuals who give so generously to support this cause.

It hasn’t always been easy.  We work on a shoestring budget; students and adults alike deal with the emotional toll of addressing the world’s injustices.  But it’s been so worth it.  Peace is worth it.  Empowerment is worth it.  Feeding hungry people is worth it.  Justice is worth it.  Taking care of ourselves, each other, and our planet is worth it.

This is why I care; this is what it’s all about:

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Keep rocking the world, all you amazing, beautiful kids with big hearts!

Love, peace, and respect,

Jacqueline

Embracing Citizenship

As the school year winds down I find myself reflecting on what our TGPP kids have accomplished over the past several months.  I couldn’t be more proud!  Here’s a snapshot:

Thanks to the vision and efforts of teacher Amanda Eldridge her ADL students participated in Year 2 of TGPP, with a focus on citizenship in their 8th grade civics class. They began by exploring the idea of community, learning about their own town, visiting town offices, and discussing with their local selectboard their opinions about real matters under review.

They then partnered with a second grade class and together explored community, reading books, having discussions, writing pen pal letters, and exchanging gifts. Both classes took a walking tour of the police station, after which ADL 8th graders hosted the 2nd graders and together made thank you gifts for the police department.

The capstone for the year was a citizenship project.  To prepare for this a group of students who attended the 2015 leadership retreat taught their peers about the Cycle of Change, a template we developed at the retreat to help students visualize how to effect positive social change…

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…which they then applied to their individual projects. So cool to see our retreat students being in leadership roles in this way. Here’s Nick and Will giving their presentation (oops, both caught mid camera blink!)

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Every student was then asked to create and implement a plan for community involvement, volunteering their time in ways that were meaningful to them and that supported an important cause. Their efforts culminated in a Citizenship Gala, an evening of student presentations.  Here’s one student’s final reflection:

I have experienced what it is like to be an active citizen, how being an active citizen rather than a passive citizen can help a community blossom.  Most importantly I have learned that being an active citizen in a community can help make a positive ripple on other people….I now look at our community very different than before, for I have never known about the extra work involved behind the events that take place in this community.  My perspective has changed because I will now participate in more volunteering around the community because I have seen through this project how much it has helped the community grow and blossom.  I think it is very important for us as citizens to help volunteer for the community and to step up to the plate to help work with organizations that are important to us.

Well said, Charles!

Some of these same students will attend the 2016 leadership retreat, where they will fine tune their goals and plans for continued student activism.  Stay tuned!

Aaannd announcing…

We’re upping our social media game!  In addition to this blog and our Facebook page you can now find us on Twitter and Instagram @growpeace1.  🙂

Peaceful Intentions

What a great year it’s been since my last update.  In 2014-15 we had a very successful year working with amazing students from two schools – Clear Creek Middle School in Buffalo, WY, and ADL Intermediate School in Essex Junction, VT.  Throughout the year these 150+ students collaborated on issues around bullying, the environment, isolation, poverty, and substance abuse.  Culminating in educational posters displayed in their respective communities, these students gained important skills necessary to becoming youth activists and agents of positive social change.

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This summer a group of these students attended our annual leadership retreat, where they created and implemented the first steps of action plans to address an issue close to their hearts.  I am very excited to see how these action plans continue to unfold as this new school year progresses.  What a great retreat – productive, heartwarming,  illuminating, and fun!

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Switching gears a little bit I’m spending the current year doing more outreach to schools, as well as following ADL on their journey and working closely with them as they participate in a second year of TGPP.  Our overarching theme is citizenship, and we began the year by honoring International Peace Day with what we called “peaceful intentions.”  Here are a few:

“I will not let my own opinions get in the way of the way I treat or think about other people.”

“I will be kind to all of my friends and peers by giving positive feedback and compliments.”

“I will help 7 different people with 7 different things.”

“I will get work done faster to relieve stress which will lower inner conflict.”

“I will make my mom’s life easier by helping around the house.”

“I will not pick fights with my family, sisters, or friends.”

“I will help people who are caught in bullying by standing up for them.”

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Very inspiring!

Discrimination

At our retreat this past summer the dance workshop students chose to incorporate spoken word into their final showcase. Concerned about discrimination, 14-year-old TreAllen wrote and performed this powerful piece that moved me to tears:

It starts with racist rednecks in the streets
Them coming at us is what I call black boy defeats
Harming us and marking the world with racist streaks
And I don’t get how we let it right the highest of peaks

All I’m saying is we could end this
Cause if not, we could make hatred endless
I got Drizzy backing me up, it go zero to a hundred real quick
You seen the four little girls and Trayvon Martin that racist people kill quick

And mama said be proud of my skin
Maybe they’ll be proud of my skin too, but I’m wondering when
They making kids wish they skin would lighten like Mike Jackson
Got me stinging – they tighten they purse when they see my black skin

And, G, they think we be skull cracking
See, now little black kids stuck hiding and masking

Ya’ know I don’t like it at all, G
They say King’s dream is done, but we far from free
I know this all seems fine
But this I can’t stand dealing with these problems in my mind
Let’s quit this before we get bullets in the air
Turning this anger into national warfare
Find our land of liberty into a warzone nation
And change this ‘cuz we don’t need no land of discrimination

A NEW YEAR

It’s hard to believe the August retreat has come and gone and we’re already into a new year with two new schools.  Big thanks to last year’s schools – YES Prep in Houston, TX and KIPP Stand in Minneapolis, MN – for everyone’s hard work and commitment to a year of self discovery, social justice, and service learning.  The retreat was an exciting adventure for all of us, and I was particularly proud of all our students who thought deeply about the issues that concern them: discrimination, self esteem, food insecurity, homelessness, and more.  I can’t wait to hear more as they begin to implement the action plans they created at the retreat.

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(2014 retreat participants)

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AND joining us for the 2014-15 school year are Clear Creek Middle School in Buffalo, WY, and ADL Middle School in Essex, VT (welcome back ADL!). We have a great team of teachers working on building a stellar program for our 7th and 8th graders.  The students are about to “meet” each other and begin their journey together.  So looking forward to it…

Getting Ready!

It’s funny when you’re paying attention to something it seems to present itself everywhere…

…like seeing this stop sign recently and thinking, “Yes, that’s what we’re trying to do here at TGPP!”

…or listening to a Joe Ehrmann interview where he says, “All of us have a responsibility to give back, to make the world more fair, more just, more hospitable for every human being….That’s the underline of all humanity.”

Yes.

…or receiving a video link of Jim Carrey’s commencement address, where he says, “And when I say life doesn’t happen to you it happens for you, I really don’t know if that’s true.  I’m just making a conscious choice to perceive challenges as something beneficial, so that I can deal with them in the most productive way.”

Yes again, a nugget of truth about the resiliency and creativity we hope to cultivate in our young activists as they face hurdles in their quest for a better world.

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LOTS of good things happening here at TGPP.   We’ve been notified we’ll be one of the featured organizations at the Ben and Jerry’s Waterbury Tour.  Our story will be in the VT Foodbank summer newsletter, we’ve been awarded a Sisters of Mercy Peace Award, and we’ve been invited to submit an article for the Common Good VT blog.

Of course, plans for the retreat are in full swing.  We’re lining up workshop presenters & our all-volunteer staff, securing lodging, planning meals, and developing program.   Our theme – What Are You Hungry For? – is taking shape.  I just had a conversation with Chris at the VT Foodbank, who will engage our group in activities that raise awareness about hunger and food insecurity.  Our workshops will be designed for personal challenges and risk-taking, and both small & large group meetings will help our kids identify issues they care about in the world, and how to go about effecting positive change within their own spheres of influence.

It’s hard work.  But when we receive words of support like the following from a participant’s mother, it reminds me of the value of what we’re doing:

I am happy to contribute and support your wonderful cause and grateful that my daughter is welcome back again this year.  Throughout the year she would often bring up something she learned during the retreat or mention a project they did.  I could tell the experience remained close to her heart all year.

Won’t you join us?  Please donate* what you can, and spread the word.  Thanks!

*at this site or at our Indiegogo campaign ending Friday August 1!!

The Growing Peace Project is a peacemaking and youth activism initiative where youth from diverse communities come together to tackle social issues that are important to them. We seek to empower youth to become “bridge builders,” thereby strengthening community and growing peace.