'Young Peacemakers' brings two communities together

In June, Frenchtown Elementary School and New Beginnings Family Academy of Bridgeport participated in a program called “Young Peacemakers: Bridging the Divide.”

The pilot program involved two grade five classrooms — one from Trumbull and the other from Bridgeport.

During the month long project students at both schools shared a similar curriculum encouraging a greater understanding of two diverse and adjoining communities.

The program was created and facilitated by Cynthia Davis, a former Trumbull resident, who is an artist and graduate student at the School of International Training/World Learning in Brattleboro, Vermont. Davis collaborated directly with David Weitzman , Clinical Social Worker and Peace Educator at Frenchtown School.

Over the past month each school has been preparing their classrooms to participate in discussions and activities around the issue of peace, understanding and seeing the positives and special things inherent in others. Corresponding lessons took place in the classroom both schools each week and were followed up in the art room where students could express what the concepts creatively through making self portraits and collages. The classroom connections contributed positively to a moral mandate to prepare learners for active and responsible citizenship and the art lessons reinforced learning through creative expression.

The culminating activities included field trips with each school visiting the other. In early June the NBFA  visited Frenchtown and  engaged consensus building activities designed to encourage trust and teamwork , values to “increase the peace” . On the final field trip day, June 6, Frenchtown school visited NBFA in Bridgeport where 45 children collaborated on a mural that represented peace  and shared community.

The challenging work strived to introduce concepts of diversity, judgment and stereotypes, acts of kindness and the affects on the community. Weitzman,

“We are doing this work not because it is easy, but because it is hard,” Weitzman said.

Davis, a  former Trumbull resident for 19 years was a board member of The Trumbull Ace Foundation. She is an artist and a multicultural educator, currently also working with Gabriel Bol Deng, one of the original Lost Boys of Sudan to bring education to his war torn village in South Sudan. Gabriel has been a guest speaker at several Trumbull Schools.

Teachers, Becky Caravetta, Deb Dean of Frenchtown and Jennifer Strausser and Rachad Hicks of NBFA were participants in the program.

“The staff was exceptional,” Davis said. “Their commitment to the children and the character values that will make them peaceful adults is what made the program a success. The art teachers truly believe that art serves to help develop and express the skills necessary for children to see the good in the world.”

Parents were also involved through take-home assignments that involved them in sharing what the children were learning.

Weitzman and Davis say the project was inspired by the wisdom Mahatma Gandhi and Emma Goldman, respectively, who spoke to the importance of teaching children peace.

“The hope is that teachers and administration will see the benefits of this kind of peace work between communities and develop and make it a part of an ongoing  program. There is nothing more important than understanding others and seeing we are all the same in so many ways.” Davis said.