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Students learn peace through letter writing

St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer named Jan. 1, 2000, as One Day in Peace in response to students' letter.

When Southside Fundamental Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders returned to classes in January, they found a surprise: a response to letters they had written to Mayor David Fischer.

"They were thrilled. It brought home to them the power of the written word," said Tom Jones, who is principal of the school at 1701 10th St. S.

Fischer had issued an official proclamation declaring Jan. 1, 2000, as One Day in Peace. The proclamation was written in response to more than 150 language arts students in Linda Kenefick's seventh- and eighth-grade classes asking the mayor to declare the day of peace for the city.

"The school had celebrated the week of Sept. 21 as peace week," Kenefick said. "I wanted to do something more involving writing, something for the community and something part of a world-wide movement."

After searching the Internet for ideas of what other educators were doing, Kenefick chose writing letters to city officials for an assignment. The lesson began with explaining what a proclamation is, the format for a business letter and the idea of one day of peace. Three and four revisions later, the letters were mailed.

"I feel this way because love is unique and in this world there is not that much love nor is there peace. To picture a day with friends and family at a picnic on the beach, with children running merrily and others conversing about work, weather and other topics in the shade would be great," wrote seventh-grader Jericka Knox.

Eighth-graders Yuki Haraguchi, Emilia Brunello, Amber McClain and Christine Fasan said characteristics of a peaceful person include friendliness, an easy smile, caring, unselfishness and being at peace with themselves.

"It's more than just stopping wars," said Emilia. "We think of it as a world without wars. But that world starts with communities being at peace."

"It's about everyone getting along," said Yuki. "When they don't, it's because they're being selfish. Hate is about selfishness. It doesn't have to be that way. We need to think about others and about resolving arguments with nonviolence."

"Even if everyone thinks only about one other person, it would grow," said Emilia.

"Maybe if our city can start this change, we can influence other cities, states or even countries to follow in our suit," wrote Amber.

"I hope this day will be an example to future generations who will see people do care," Christine said. "We need to learn from history."

"There's already been too many mistakes," said Yuki.

The proclamation said that "Peace begins with each of us - when we respect ourselves, each other, and the planet we share. Sincere wishes, thoughts, or prayers for peace have a positive impact on individuals as well as the world. Such concern is essential in addressing the causes of many critical problems like street violence, disasters, disease, environmental deterioration, famine, terrorism, and the threat of nuclear disaster. We can lessen violence and separation when we pull together for a common goal. A global movement is growing to ask the world to declare one day of peace on Jan. 1, 2000, as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. (I) urge all citizens to celebrate the Year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace, and to recognize the importance of promoting peace and harmony in our community each and every day."

"This is a life-long lesson. A lot of what elementary and middle school students do doesn't have an effect until 10 years down the road. This is something they'll remember," said Jones, the principal.