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Ashland students organize for peace

Ashland Middle School students show their commitment to making the world a better place for all living things
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ashland Middle School students form a living peace symbol Friday during an assembly.

Students at Ashland Middle School worked together Friday to realize their ideals for a more peaceful world.

The school held its first Peace Assembly in two years — organized by the Ashland Middle School Roots and Shoots program. The program was started by seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher Kristina Healy in 2017, and Ashland Middle School is one of 700,000 active members of the Roots and Shoots program through the Jane Goodall institute.

“I’ve always been a fan of Jane Goodall,” Healy said, as she described her choice to start Roots and Shoots as an elective class at Ashland Middle School in 2017.

The program’s mission is to promote respect and compassion for all living things — humans, animals and the planet. The program offers resources and ideas to participating institutions, but at Ashland Middle School program, the students get most of the credit.

“We get some of our community service ideas from their site, but mostly the kids come up with it,” Healy said.

Student projects include making meals from garden harvests, building bat and bird houses for local parks and Wildlife Images, sewing dog beds for local animal shelters, raising $2,000 to provide care packages to homeless people, making care cards for residents at Mountain Meadows, and community service hours at places like North Mountain Park.

When the principal of Ashland Middle School stood up Friday in front of students and asked for all to settle down, the students fell immediately silent. The gym was decorated with cranes, folded from colored paper by students, each with a handwritten peace pledge inside. On the other side of the gym was an enormous dove made of white fabric with an olive branch in its beak, held up on poles by three students.

The Roots and Shoots students were called up in front of the assembly to the cheers of classmates, and they passed a microphone to each other as they made ambitious but actionable pledges for themselves to live lives of peace.

The students pledged things like advancing equity, giving strength to others, respecting all people regardless of ethnicity, clothing or disability, and respecting the planet.

As the assembly came to a close, the students walked out of the gym and flowed onto the lawn at the center of the track. With the indefatigable energy of youth, whooping, hollering, skipping, chatting and joking with each other as they went, the students assembled themselves into a living peace sign.

As a drone flew overhead, the students were told to wave, which they did with exuberance, yelling and making animal noises — releasing energy into the moment. But when asked to participate in a moment of silence, they went quiet for an entire minute, standing, some dancing, in their peace sign formation.

After it was over, and most of the students had returned to class, the Roots and Shoots students went back to the gym to put away everything they had organized.

“I think we all just thought it was pretty cool that we were all having this opportunity to be able to be in Roots and Shoots,” said eighth-grader Aubrie Stanton. “It’s cool running this stuff. Even though it’s really stressful, it was a really fun experience.”

The students divided up the work, and described the project as an immense amount of teamwork. They used video and emails from previous assemblies as a blueprint to design their own, updating it to accommodate a larger student body and their own interests. Once they knew what they wanted, they ordered supplies and tackled the smaller details themselves.

The Roots and Shoots class chose cranes as their symbol of peace, then taught other students how to make them.

When asked how they would act on their peace pledges in day-to-day life, the students were thoughtful.

“Probably just keeping an open mind about everyone,” said seventh-grader Colden Friedman.

“Be more self-aware,” said eighth-grader Nova Reyburn. “If you’re judging somebody, be like, why am I judging them? Think about it before you start judging somebody; you don’t know what their life is like.”

The students said they felt the program gave them the chance to experience the kind of pressure and responsibility they will face as adults.

“It gives a really good insight as to what life is going to be like when we get older, making our own decisions, and planning things,” Aubrie said.

“Just to think, we like did this, all of us working together, we made the whole school get together and do this thing for peace,” Friedman said.

The students said they appreciated that they were part of something larger — Roots and Shoots is spread throughout the United States and internationally. They thought of themselves and their work as making their community and the world a better place.

“I’ve learned a lot,” said eighth-grader Sorn Vaughn-Brown. “I would say that most of the people that come out of Roots and Shoots, they’re better people.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.