Practicing and amplifying peace during Peace WeekWritten by Andrea Miller
"Part of what we are doing when we walk to the Meeting House and settle into silence is that we are centering down so that we can access something larger than ourselves," explained Dr. Polly Duke, an Upper School World Languages and Cultures teacher and Quaker. "Early Quakers called it the 'inner seed.' Some people call it God, others call it love, beauty, light, and others," added Dr. Duke as she addressed students and faculty at the Upper School opening Peace Week assembly.
Each year, the Friends Academy community amplifies a focus on the Quaker Testimonies of Peace and Equality with a dedicated week of activities, programs, speakers, and reflection. This week of programming is designed by students and adult colleagues in all three divisions of TASQUE, which stands for Teachers and Students for Quaker Understanding and Education. Students develop queries, or open-ended questions, that the community can use as reflective prompts and this week, each day starts with a Query written by representative members of the community:
- Tuesday: What does it mean to be a peacemaker? (Upper School)
- Wednesday: How can we intentionally integrate acts of kindness and understanding into our daily routines, fostering a more peaceful and connected community? (Middle School)
- Thursday: How can we bring peace to others (Lower School)
- Friday: Where do we find unexpected and meaningful connections in our community (Non-teaching FA colleagues)
This year, Peace Week 2024 coincides with the 400th birthday of Quakerism founder George Fox, who was born in 1624. The son of a weaver, Fox was well educated and when he reached his early 20s began to feel disaffected by England's institutional religion as wel as the Church of England. "Affected by the noticeable hypocrisy and debauchery among the clergy, he asked of himself, 'How can they be closer to God than me?'" said Dr. Duke. "From that insight sprung the fundamental belief that there is that of God in everybody, which connects directly to the Quaker Testimony of Equality," she added.
The connections between Equality and Peace are at the center of Peace Week; it intentionally begins after Martin Luther King Jr. Day/National Day of Service and these Testimonies or values are integrated into activities and visiting speakers. "Without equality, you cannot have peace," shared Dr. Duke, who reminded students of Dr. King's shortened life's work, including being selected to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Upper School TASQUE co-clerks Charlotte Knight '24 and Elya Rak '24 introduced the week's agenda and speakers – on Thursday, students can attend a Lunch and Learn sponsored by the Upper School student AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) committee, with former FA Quaker-in-Residence John Scardina, who will present about AVP and future possibilities with FA; and on Friday, the Upper School student committees of Diversity and SAGA present Brian Blackmore, who is the Director of Quaker Engagement for the American Friends Service Committee. Mr. Blackmore will speak about the role of Quakers in the history of gay rights.
The Middle School Community Helpers/TASQUE club is set to launch a game-based project, a truly impactful endeavor. This initiative not only aims to foster connections within the school community but to also extend the school's reach to make meaningful connections with The INN, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding individuals facing issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
To initiate this project, Friends Academy will host directors from The INN to share insights into the crucial work they do, setting the stage for our collaborative efforts. "The crux of our project revolves around the creation of meaningful card games. Our middle schoolers will be tasked with developing comprehensive instructions, tips, and suggestions for playing the chosen games. This endeavor not only encourages creativity but also fosters a sense of ownership and collaboration within our school community," said TASQUE advisor and 8th-grade English teacher Adriana Bocchino.
Once the card games are complete and adorned with personal touches, students will embark on a field trip to The INN to witness firsthand the organization's impactful work and distribute their personalized card games.
"The card games, surpassing their role as mere sources of entertainment, become meaningful tokens of connection and support for those in need," shared Ms. Bocchino. "Collaborating with The INN, our Middle School Community Helpers/TASQUE project exemplifies the power of working together, fostering creativity and compassion. This initiative goes beyond just making card games; it involves creating connections, providing service, and building community, aligning seamlessly with the core Quaker values of our school," she added.
During Peace Week, Middle schoolers are also exploring connections between themselves and others with a multi-day Mix-it Up Advisory activity – a lesson that is based on the Learning for Justice Mix-It-Up Guide. Over the week, students will be identifying the kinds of groupings that exist in school (both social and established school groups like athletes, arts, etc.) and the core values of each of these groups; following this brainstorming, students will self-identify with one or more of the groups, by marking insights on a large puzzle piece that each student receives. Through reflection, discernment, and discussion, students will discover how they are connected to different groups due to shared values.
In Lower School, Peace Week opened in Gathering, where students were able to dive into true service learning as they heard and met virtually with members of Every Day is a Miracle, the organization to which families recently donated coats of all sizes. Founder Maria Torres spoke to the children about growing up in a foreign country, the Dominican Republic, with a grandmother who taught her to always have a side plate for someone else. Based in the Bronx, she created Every Day is a Miracle to help her community, who because of language and education barriers, are prevented from scaling up to better jobs and housing. The Lower School is the only school that has partnered with Every Day in this way. Middle and Upper School families can continue to contribute through Friday, Jan. 19 by bringing in coats to the MS Collab Space and the lower level of Frost Hall.
Following the Zoom session, FA Quaker-in-Residence Jen Cort posed a sophisticated question to PG-4th grade students when she asked them to think about how a coat drive connects to Peace Week.
"I think it's because you are helping people," answered one student. "It's peaceful and peace is being kind to others." Another student responded, "When you give to someone it's like giving peace to the world." Many of FA's donated coats will go to help children who are in temporary housing or are children of migrants.
To close out Gathering, Music teacher James Liverani led the entire Lower School in three verses of "This Little Light of Mine." With visible peace and calm in their hearts and minds, students finished their morning with a moment of silence, as they centered on their query for the day: "How can I help people and myself to be peaceful."
Peace Week in-school activities continue through Friday, Jan. 19. On Thursday, Jan. 18 families are invited to attend the annual FAmily Night, sponsored by the FA Parent Council and organized by the Friends Academy Office of Diversity, Equity, +Inclusion. The evening features an international family potluck that highlights the unique cultural backgrounds of FA families and a series of Arts workshops where families can explore painting, music, dance, and meditation together. On Saturday, Jan. 20th, families are invited to attend the next Community Sandwich Making project to make sandwiches for local communities in need.
Photography by Alvin Caal/Friends Academy