Our friends at the Gandhi Alliance for Peace in Salt Lake City, UT recently shared with us a book project they have been working on for the past ten years to bring the message of nonviolence into local schools. Deb Sawyer said that “We created a list of books for schools which we have added to over the years; now we take the list to a school and let that school decide which books they want for their students. Often, we give 6 or so of the same book so it can be used in reading groups. Thus children get to learn to read as they learn about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, etc.”
This year students at Jackson Elementary School invited the Gandhi Alliance for Peace to attend a presentation about what they learned from their books on Gandhi and Catherine Kreuter writes about this experience below. See their master list of wonderful books here [PDF]
By Catherine Kreuter
Our December 21 visit to Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City got off to a lively start in the fully packed auditorium, where we attended the last fifteen minutes of the holiday assembly.
Reflecting the native languages of the majority of the children, program announcements and songs moved easily back and forth between English and Spanish. We heard enthusiastic renditions of Feliz Navidad and Pachebel’s Canon. For the latter, over 40 young violinists played in much-practiced unison!
After the assembly, sixth grade teachers, Ms. Tapia and Mr. Ellison, warmly welcomed us to the classroom presentations about Gandhi, made individually by six students: Grace, Senna, Siaki, Francisco, Sherrie, and Juan. These students had read about Gandhi, then prepared power-point “videos” which were projected on a large screen for all to see. They reported on Gandhi’s family and childhood; his schooling; his life in India, England, and South Africa; his teachings; and his death. One by one, they stood beside the large screen and conducted a 3 to 5 minute lesson about Gandhi. Occasionally questions came up, which were directed to Deb to answer, and she spoke about the importance in his teaching and in the world today of nonviolence.
Maggie Laun, LCSW, school counselor, and the person by whom we were invited, said her favorite part was the ending of each power-point when the student addressed the question, “What impacted me about Gandhi’s life?” These very personal responses revealed how differently each child will remember Gandhi. Especially impressionable were Gandhi’s marriage at age 13 (most 6th graders are 12), his work to end the untouchable class, his forgiveness, and his being shot three times in the chest.
Their facility and fun with computers showed up in the flashy screen changes they employed. Words appeared in clouds like flocks of birds, then settled into readable text. Flames burst out from time to time, then quickly disappeared. Paragraphs blew away like leaves in the wind!
Teachers and children thanked us (Deb Sawyer, Sharon Odekirk, Kristen Iversen, Cathy Kreuter) for visiting. Several children postponed their dismissal for lunch to linger, chat with us, give us tiny gifts,. show us their gymnastics on the Mother Earth rug, and hug us goodbye. Deb closed our visit in conversation with Ms. Tapia about how the Gandhi Alliance could be of further help in the way of books and other teaching materials.
Out in the parking lot Sharon exclaimed that the auditorium concert was the best she had attended in a long time. I thought to myself that the very air a child at Jackson School breathes seems full of love and caring. Hooray for this American public school!