Thursday, November 9, 2017

Grandview teacher brings peace into classroom

by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has selected Grandview teacher Amy Cameron to serve in the 2017 Peace Teachers Program. The Peace Teachers Program is rooted in the conviction that educators can be pivotal in bringing peace themes into their classrooms, schools and communities. At a time when violent conflict regularly dominates headlines, USIP believes that teachers are the key to helping young people obtain the knowledge, skills and perspectives to envision a more peaceful world and their part in creating it.

The Peace Teachers Program selects four outstanding American middle and high school educators each year to receive training, resources and support to strengthen their teaching of peace. Over the course of a school year, these teachers develop their understanding of international conflict management and peacebuilding through online coursework and other USIP opportunities; discover new ways to teach about conflict and peace, and identify concrete actions for integrating these concepts and skills into their classrooms; build connections with like-minded educators and with USIP through monthly virtual meetings; and serve as ambassadors and models for global peacebuilding education in their schools and broader communities by sharing their experiences and strategies on USIP’s website, at conferences of educators, and in a special closing program in Washington, D.C.

“We are thrilled to work with these four outstanding educators this coming year. They have each excelled at bringing a global perspective to their teaching, and they have exciting ideas for integrating issues of conflict and peace into their students’ work,” said Megan Chabalowski, who manages the program for USIP’s Public Education department. “We know from working with previous groups of Peace Teachers that they are going to have a great impact on their students’ growth as peacebuilders.”

The program is part of USIP’s public education work. Grounded in the Institute’s original mandate from Congress, public education serves the American people, providing resources and initiatives for K-12 students and educators, as well as others interested in learning about and working for peace.
Cameron wrote curriculum for her high school British and World Literature students using the book What Is the What, written by Dave Eggers, which is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese child refugee who immigrated to the United States under the Lost Boys of Sudan program. Last school year, after the students read the novel, Cameron invited a Lost Boy from Sudan to come and speak with her classes.

“The conversations we have while reading this book are great,” said Cameron. “Our kids are global citizens now. When I’m teaching them, we study South Sudan and the conflict.”
Throughout her research for the curriculum, Cameron came across an essay contest through USIP. Having been listed as the sponsoring teacher for student submissions over the years, Chabalowski reached out to Cameron to find out what was happening in her classroom.

“I told her that in our World Lit classes, we talk about conflict being everywhere and that we can’t isolate ourselves from it,” said Cameron. “In Grandview we can’t be isolated. I want my students to feel like they are part of a bigger picture. The South Sudanese just lends itself to such a great study of conflict.”

With many of the Lost Boys from Sudan ending up in the Kansas City area, Cameron’s students are able to relate to their stories. Chabalowski, after hearing from Cameron about her curriculum, convinced her to apply for the Peace Teachers Program.

“If I had read the other teachers’ (who were previously selected) submissions, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I did it and I was just humbled when I found out that USIP had selected me,” said Cameron. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Cameron’s essay focused on how she applies lessons of peace in her classroom in order to help her students feel more connected and to feel that something else is more important than them. Next semester, Cameron will include a project-based learning design in which students will study how to become peacebuilders in the world.

“I’m going to let them run with it. There are a thousand different avenues that they can explore,” said Cameron. “It’s all high-interest with the kids. The relevancy now, when there’s so much conflict, a lot of our kids can relate to these things personally.”

While doing an activity that coincided with the International Day of Peace this year, Cameron and her students discovered that 162 nations are currently in some sort of conflict. Each country in conflict will receive a colored tack on the map in Cameron’s classroom, eventually filling most of the map.

“The idea is to show that they are all in conflict,” said Cameron. “We’ll focus on how to be a peacebuilder in the classroom and how that translates to the community and the world.”

As part of the Peace Teachers Program, Cameron has received a number of resources to help her incorporate peace building into her everyday teaching. The other teachers selected for this year are from Montana, Florida and Oklahoma, and the four speak monthly to discuss what may or may not be working in their respective communities.

“Grandview is on the map for this,” said Cameron. “I’m really psyched for it. The attention between Washington D.C. and Grandview that we’ll receive, to me, is huge.”

As one of the four high schools in the country being represented in the Peace Teachers Program, in December, USIP representatives will visit Grandview High School and speak with Cameron’s students.

“This is so relevant right now. With our kids, a lot of times they are reflecting what is happening at home,” said Cameron. “Their concerns should be our concerns. The kids have definite opinions, but they also feel hopeless. Hopefully there will be a time in our lives when we won’t have 162 countries in conflict, but that won’t happen until it happens everywhere, when people feel like they have a say; when we feel more secure in our own communities.”


Cameron is excited to see what direction her students take with the peacebuilding lessons. Every day, as Cameron teaches World Literature, she explains to her students different perspectives and that the world is much bigger than the community they live in. Her classes will begin reading What Is the What in February.

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