The #PeaceDayChallenge at GMHS


The United States Institute of Peace booth near the cafeteria in which students could talk to a representative and write a positive message to post on the wall. (Photo by Rachel Doornbosch)

Did you hear about peace day challenge at George Mason last week? International Peace Day was on Thursday, September 21 and George Mason High School (GM), as well as Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School (MEH), took part in activities for students to learn more about it and celebrate the day.

International Peace Day was established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution. It is annually celebrated around the world through peace building activities and social media movements. The Peace Day Challenge has reached 104 million people in 148 countries on social media, engaged dozens of organizations, and inspired activities in more than 30 countries and 41 U.S. states since 2015.

The idea of incorporating action in schools for Peace Day was launched by Ms. Laura Lane, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme Coordinator for Falls Church City Public Schools. In addition, she worked with Megan Murphy and Estelle Timar-Wilcox, leaders of the Model United Nations club at GMHS, to bring Allison Sturma, a United Nations Institute of Peace (USIP) representative to work with students.

“I mentioned to the principals at both MEH and GMHS that I would like to do something to recognize International Peace Day, because I don’t remember it as something we did last year here,” Lane said. “They were both open to the ideas, but wanted to leave it to the teachers as to how they wanted to incorporate it in the day.”

MEH ultimately decided to take on the peace day challenge by having teachers do in-class lesson by Lane and presented during their social studies classes. For GM it worked out a bit differently. Since it was spirit week, the school did not want to interrupt the classes in any shape or form. Thus Sturma, representing the U.N Institute of Peace, came in to speak in the auditorium during Mustang Block and conduct activities with students. Additionally, for more students to take a part in this important day, there was a booth located outside the cafeteria during all three lunches.

A wall with positive notes from students about how they are going to practice peace.
Some of the positive messages students wrote to post on the wall and took a picture with. (Photo by Rachel Doornbosch)

At the booth students could learn more information about the USIP, write down ways that they would practice peace, and take pictures with their positive messages. Additionally, Assistant Principal Dr. Kevin Clark had a screen during all three lunches, which ran a feed with photos and tweets coming in from #peacedaychallenge.

Last February, about twenty teachers went on a field trip to learn more about the United States Institute of Peace’s resources such as lessons and techniques that they could use in their classrooms.

“We actually got to interact and learn some of the strategies that they (the USIP) uses to teach peace building and team building skills and I believe that some of the teachers have used those activities in their classrooms when they returned,” Lane said.

For anyone that would like to participate, through the National Peace Essay Contest (NPEC), the USIP has been challenging students to critically think about global issues of conflict and peace since 1987. This year the USIP is partnering with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) for the annual National High School Essay Contest for 2017-2018. The deadline for the contest is March 15, 2018 and you may learn more information about the contest here.