Thornton Friends School

A Celebration of Peaceful Intentions

A banner carried by Aujeanette Jones-Staunton, Eric Zuckerman and Sivanee Mecardo expresses the parade's point.
A banner carried by Aujeanette Jones-Staunton, Eric Zuckerman and Sivanee Mecardo expresses the parade's point. (Photos Courtesy Of Thornton Friends School)

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By Julie Rasicot
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Persuading people to live in peace might seem like a daunting task, but that didn't stop 21 middle school students from the Thornton Friends School in Silver Spring from spreading their message the best way they knew how -- with a parade.

Armed with sandwich boards, drums, collages and other props, students from the independent Quaker school, some dressed in costumes, promoted peace with a celebratory march during the Hyattsville Day Parade. They have also taken their signs and songs to several public and private schools during the past two weeks.

Part educational and part just plain fun, the multifaceted parade included marching by students who wore sandwich boards bearing messages about such peace movements as the civil rights-era lunch counter sit-ins. During the school visits, the parade was followed by short presentations that included songs and dramatic readings.

"It's really a celebration of peace, more like a party," said Principal Marcy Baker Seitel. "It's not gorgeous and professional looking. It looks like middle schoolers made it. It's really lovely. People are too serious about peace and lose track that it is something wonderful."

The idea for a peace parade came from School Manager Virgilla Maduekwe, who was looking for a project that would meet the requirements of a grant offered by the Friends Council on Education, which promotes the theory and practice of Quaker education.

Maduekwe said she got the idea of having the students make costumes from watching the Disney Channel show "That's So Raven," in which the main character frequently dresses up. The school received a $1,260 grant from the council that paid for art supplies.

"I was trying to think of some way we could promote peace and use things we have in the community," she said, adding that she thought some kids might be too shy to get involved. "But a parade -- everybody can walk and participate."

Seitel said the parade was not a protest against the war in Iraq but was meant to focus on "what it is to live peacefully together." It reflects students' concerns "that violence is part of our lives," as recently evidenced by the mass killing at Virginia Tech, she said.

The middle school uses classrooms at Saint Stephen Lutheran Church, at 11612 New Hampshire Ave. Thornton's upper school, located nearby, has 54 students in grades nine through 12. Like other Friends schools, Thornton emphasizes education in the context of spirituality and social responsibility.

Head of School Michael DeHart said the parade fit well with Thornton's philosophy of teaching students how to solve problems in nonviolent ways. "Doing this makes it that much more obvious and symbolic," he said.

Maduekwe said she wanted students to research key events and figures of peace movements over the years when considering ideas for the parade, but "it took students awhile to catch the vision."

Eighth-grader Sam Judson of Bethesda said he wasn't that interested in the idea of a peace parade at first.

"I wasn't exactly thrilled about it. It wasn't a very exciting thing," said the 13-year-old. "None of us actually were thrilled about going to perform and looking really weird."

But Sam ended up writing a song, which he performed while playing the guitar during school presentations. "It was kind of weird, but rewarding in a way," he said.

Working since January during afternoons set aside for projects, the students produced sandwich boards with such messages as "End lunch counter discrimination" and "Jim Crow must go." A "peace buggy" made out of cardboard cutouts shaped like a car that sat atop a skateboard bore a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

During a practice run in the school parking lot, the students marched to the beat of two small drums. In addition to the sandwich boards worn by several students, one student wore a costume shaped like Earth, and another bore a stick figure representing Rosa Parks.

For 13-year-old Aujeanette Jones-Staunton of Washington, thinking about peace prompted images of the 1960s and 1970s, or hippies and headbands and the ubiquitous peace symbol. So the eighth-grader wore a large peace sign painted on a piece of cardboard.

She also led a group of students in a spirited version of the Black Eyed Peas song "Where Is the Love" during the school presentations.

"It's so cool because you never would think that our little school could have such an influence in a community," Aujeanette said. "We felt like we were in charge of the world and we could make a difference."

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