Flag to fly at Pearson headquarters
Thursday, May 28, 2009
|CREDIT: PIERRE OBENDRAUF, THE GAZETTE|
|Board chairman Marcus Tabachnick and the Allion school choir accept Peaceful School award from Hetty van Gurp on behalf of the Lester B. Pearson board. The board is the first to receive the honour.|
Lester B. Pearson School Board officials might have been proud recently to receive a Peaceful Schools flag from the founder of the movement, Hetty van Gurp, but it was van Gurp herself who was proudest that an entire school board had adopted her philosophy.
It is the only school board on the continent to have done so.
Schools mostly sign up for the Peaceful Schools initiative individually, but the Pearson board embraced van Gurp’s ideology from the beginning in 2002 and encouraged all of its West Island schools to participate and to become peaceful schools.
So when van Gurp presented Pearson officials with one of the organization’s flags for its head office in Dorval, she did so knowing that it was the only school board headquarters in North America that would have one of her flags flying.
And for van Gurp, who lost her 14-year-old son in a violent bullying incident in 1991, it was as proud a moment as she could have to honour the memory of her cherished boy.
"It is very unusual to have a whole school board do this," van Gurp said in an interview. "They are the one and only school board, and to me they represent the pinnacle of success. I am hopeful that other school boards will follow their lead."
Van Gurp’s Peaceful Schools International is based in Nova Scotia and includes about 300 schools in 14 countries as members. While not every Pearson school flies a Peaceful Schools flag, all have participated in workshops to learn the Peaceful Schools philosophy and all work at keeping it going in their schools.
Peaceful Schools International encourages each school to formulate its own way of creating a culture of peace, using the organization’s criteria as a guide rather than a law. Some of the criteria include involving everyone in the school in decision-making to create a democratic classroom, teaching conflict resolution so children can do their own problem-solving and providing professional development for staff.
"The (Lester B. Pearson) school board has really demonstrated their commitment to Peaceful Schools in a tangible way," said van Gurp.
The board’s commitment meant that people from every school were able to attend a three-day workshop to get the program going in the beginning, and they solidified that commitment by hiring a retired principal, Judy Grant, to run the Peaceful Schools initiative and keep it going.
"The goal is to create an environment where bullying cannot exist," said Grant, who is still the co-ordinator of the program for the board. "And when you empower students to have control of their environment, it absolutely happens."
Still, she conceded, you have to keep working at it and the schools plan many activities around the Peaceful Schools concept, not to mention an annual Peace Symposium for students.
For example, one school is planning a week dedicated to the language of peace, where communication will be done in a non-confrontational manner.
"The whole school is brought together by doing things like this on a school-wide basis," said Grant. "We are just trying to support our schools so they can maintain a climate of peace."