The general news climate being as it is, you’re forgiven if you didn’t know that September 21 was the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples. The significance of the day was lost, evidently, on grown men who persist in distinguishing themselves by ignominy. But, sez me, one has to take good news wherever one can find it, and, as fate would have it, there was some very good news on the Peace Front in San Diego, where more than a thousand students and supporters joined together in a March for Peace through one of the city’s suburban communities.
The March was organized by staff and students from San Diego Cooperative Charter School (SDCCS) Linda Vista, with the involvement of Linda Vista’s sister school, SDCCS Mountain View, the Francis Parker School, San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Sarah Saluta, principal of SDCCS Linda Vista, said the march was meant to give students a public forum to use their voices to promote peace and equality.
“This originated with students’ desire to find an outlet for their voices and viewpoints. The march will give our kids a chance to use their voices in the community, to promote their vision and advance their goals for a future of peace and equality. Connecting students from private, public and charter school systems, students with diverse backgrounds and experiences, will promote awareness, empathy and leadership. We’re proud to be able to support this student-led initiative.”
The Peace Day celebration at Linda Vista began with a rally that filled the school’s asphalt infield, some 800 children joined by hundreds of parents and preschool siblings, along with faculty and staff, university students, neighbors and community representatives. Students sang and danced, teachers shared messages tied to the day’s theme, and attendees young and old enjoyed the waning perfection of a San Diego Summer.
Following the rally, students lined up at the school’s gate and filed out, filling the narrow streets, chanting “Peace is a Choice.” They marched nearly two miles in a circle, winding their way through a mixed retail and residential neighborhood, some arm-in-arm, others bearing multi-colored peace signs and banners affirming their devotion to peace and equality. The march was a notable public display of what happens every day at SDCCS campuses.
SDCCS Linda Vista has served students from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade since 2002, offering multi-age, developmentally-based learning in an innovative setting following a unique curriculum that promotes change-making values and emphasizes community engagement and leadership skills. SDCCS Mountain View opened in one of San Diego’s lowest income neighborhoods in 2013 and follows the same values-centered curriculum, serving a student body with nearly two-thirds of children living in poverty, including nearly one in five English learners and an additional one-fifth of students with special education needs.
Anthony Villaseñor, principal of SDCCS Mountain View, believes that events like the Peace Day march are especially important for his students. Asked what he hoped his students would take from the event, Villaseñor said:
“I want them to know that they’re part of a bigger family, that they are connected to many other people, including adults, in their own neighborhood and far beyond. I want them to know they are loved.”
That message, that students are loved, is a core element of the SDCCS curriculum and philosophy. Both SDCCS schools are certified Ashoka Changemaker Institutions, a designation that connects SDCCS to innovative, empathy-centered education practices shared with partner schools around the world. As Changemaker Schools, the SDCCS Linda Vista and Mountain View campuses promote a vision of education and social responsibility that frames student learning in a context of social awareness, promoting their growth as leaders in a changing world. Academic and extra-curricular instruction at both schools emphasize competency in the four Changemaker focus areas of leadership, empathy, teamwork and problem solving. The schools are committed to laying a foundation for future success by increasing students’ self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship management, and responsible decision making.
That commitment, from the top down, amplified by the involvement of devoted parent volunteers and community supporters creates a student body committed to peace and equality in a time of increasing division and hostility. Despite working with a budget and capital resources substantially lower than comparable district schools, SDCCS is among the leading school systems statewide in the creation of a nurturing learning environment. In its 2016-17 Social Climate Report Card, the schools ranked in the 98th percentile of all California schools in supporting students’ needs, engaging students in classwork and support services, and providing an environment free of violence, bullying and substance abuse.
SDCCS Executive Director Tom Pellegrino said of the Peace Day event and the schools’ ongoing commitment to social awareness, inclusiveness and empathy:
“The important message for students, and for all of us, is that the values of unity, finding our commonalities and what we all stand for will always outpace and outweigh the trivial differences between us.”
In the end, the International Day of Peace was just another day for students at SDCCS Linda Vista and Mountain View. Like every other day, it was a day when students banded together to use their young voices to promote a better future, one in which their academic preparation is backed up by social and emotional assets that ready them for leadership of a world that embraces possibilities older minds can no longer grasp. The possibility of peace abides, and as the voices of SDCCS children attest, that possibility is a choice.
To learn more about SDCCS, visit their website at www.sdccs.org