By Kim Walter
WINCHESTER - On Wednesday morning, 6-year-old R.J. Howett, of Strasburg, closed his eyes, bowed his head, put his hands together and prayed.
He and fellow students at the Winchester Academy, a nonprofit and nondenominational K-12 Christian school, celebrated the International Day of Peace and See You at the Pole through prayer and music.
Some students held God's Eyes -- a symbol of peace from Mexican culture. The students made creative crosses from wood or branches, and covered them in colorful yarn.
Older students led their peers in prayer and gave a little background information on the beginning of See You at the Pole, as well as why it was important to recognize the International Day of Peace.
See You at the Pole began in 1990 as a time for Christian students of all ages to gather at a flagpole in front of their local school for prayer, scripture reading and hymn-singing during the early morning before school starts. While some groups and gatherings have been challenged, the movement has become an annual event celebrated by millions of students around the world.
Patrick Ware, a local pastor and parent of a student at the academy, led the short service. Students, faculty and some parents sang "Peace Like a River."
"Who here wants to have a good life? Who wants to love their life?" Ware asked the students, who all raised a hand or two.
Ware cited some scripture, which he said holds instructions for how to lead a "good, fulfilling life."
"We must seek peace and pursue it," he said. "That means we have to want it, but also take action and pursue it in our daily lives."
He compared the advice to wanting cookies, which the students seemed excited about.
"If you see a cookie on a table, and you want it, you have to do something to get it, right?" he asked. "It's the same with peace. It's not enough to just talk about it or think about. We must live it."
Ware led those in attendance in prayer, and gave thanks for the freedom to have such a faith-based event at the school.
Savannah Bailey, 17, of Front Royal, was one of the older students leading the service.
She said although there is evil and hardship in the world, it's important to come together for peace.
"Peace is still in this world," she said. "We as a people just need to remember that and keep working toward it."
Savannah also pointed out that the school held the service, and didn't face any backlash.
"Maybe that means the world is changing," she said.
Morgan Elgin, 16, of Frederick County, said part of the service was also to recognize evil.
"I guess that sounds a little strange, but we can't ignore the things that are going on around us," she said. "But hopefully if we can recognize those bad and hurtful things, we can change it. And I think that starts with coming together for an event like this."
Nine-year-old Ariana Byrd of Winchester said she enjoyed coming together "under God's word" with her peers and teachers.
She said she particularly liked singing about peace.
"It feels good to sing about my joy in God," she said. "I just want everyone to be happy."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org