Signal Knob’s Peace Council to promote tolerance, kindness

By Josette Keelor

Teachers, parents, students and community members are invited to join together at Signal Knob Middle School on Wednesday night for the first meeting of the Peace Council, an initiative to embrace peace through simple conversations, community service and peace-building workshops.

School librarian Jacqueline Weitman said she is planning a many-layered program based on her research into the work of other peace councils around the country. The idea is to unite students and teachers with volunteers from the community.

The message of the Peace Council is simple but important, Weitman said: “That we really are all in this together.”

In a book study starting Wednesday, participants will approach the topic of diversity by reading and discussing “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio; “Out of My Mind,” by Sharon Draper; and “Bystander,” by James Preller.

Weitman plans to have 30 copies of each book on hand, 20 reserved for students and the others for adult members of the council. The study’s goals will be to foster lifelong reading and continued development of empathy within the community, to strengthen the community and facilitate simple conversations concerning peace.

The conversations will be from 8 to 8:25 a.m. Fridays at the school and at the council meeting dates.

Also planned is a dialog station in the library to foster student discussions on topics like cyber bullying and whether or not parents should track their teenagers’ “every move” online.

Weitman said the format should offer several discussion topics for students, including those important to them.

“It’s the way we approach peace through conflict,” she said, noting that she expects that finding solutions for conflicts in their life will help students increase their chances of being academically successful.

The Embracing Diversity section will involve “Sharing Cultures Night” and include the community in contributing food that represents a diverse society and celebrates many cultures.

Weitman said the peace-building toolkit the school plans to use came from the United States Institute of Peace and will translate into enrichment classes she said she hopes to add to the school’s curriculum next year.

A mentoring program will encourage volunteers from the community to spend time with students during the school day engaging them in simple, short positive conversations and donate time in the library.

The Peace Council also will promote community service through the school’s existing programs, like one inspired by Rachel’s Challenge, a nationwide program honoring Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Joy Scott by continuing work she began in showing kindness to others.

“All the things that we’re normally doing in the building, we’re going to celebrate,” Weitman said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent David Hinegardener said some of the county’s other schools have similar programs, but so far this is the only Peace Council, an idea born out of work the library at Signal Knob Middle started last year.

“This was just a school initiative that resulted from some positive energy,” he said.

In Warren County, various programs for students routinely address bullying, cyber bullying and other issues of conflict with help from the Warren Coalition, a 501 C3 nonprofit that promotes the mission of supporting a safe, healthy and drug-free community for area youth.

Michael Hirsch, director of special services for the schools and president of the coalition, said programs the schools use, like the elementary schools’ Too Good For Violence, the middle school’s Second Step program and the high schools’ Scare program, are research-based and regulated by the International Bullying Prevention Association.

Most strategic interventions in the county are done at the middle school level, he said, and Warren County Middle’s teacher-advisory program is particularly beneficial by helping foster better relationships between students and teachers.

Weitman, who has worked at Signal Knob for 21 years, said she plans to make the Peace Council a continuing goal of hers and offer bi-monthly conversations through meetings at the school. Those planned for the year will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, as well as on Jan. 22, March 19 and May 21.

For more information about the Peace Council at Signal Knob Middle School, 687 Sandy Hook Road, Strasburg, call the school at 465-3422. The first meeting will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com