Singing for Peace

Teacher/musician uses music to help students deal with images of war.
Grade Level

When the daily newspaper depicted gruesome violence with horrifying headlines about the war in Iraq, my thoughts turned to school. Like every teacher in America, our staff would be called upon to answer difficult questions from students. Our approach involved using music and the arts as a way to bring people together.

In addition to being a special-education teacher, I also am a musician. Some friends and I wrote a song called "Reconciliation," which the school music teacher and I rewrote for elementary students. Two 4th-grade teachers wanted their classes involved, and thus the Ventura Park 4th-Grade Peace Project Choir was born.

Our school counselor organized a schoolwide art contest for the cover of our CD, which included a song by our 6th-grade choir as well. Students created powerful images, then had opportunities to discuss their art with each other, their teachers and the counselor.

The CD sold out in a matter of weeks. The artwork remained on display at school for many months. Parents and students danced together at a concert. "Reconciliation" could be heard playing from boom boxes in any given classroom the remainder of the year. We gave 50 percent of the proceeds to the American Red Cross and the other 50 percent to our own Positive School Climate Committee, which strives to create a peaceful school atmosphere.

Our resolve to not only teach peace but to have the students actively engaged in the spirit of community remains strong. We can only hope to give our children a more peaceful world when we give them the tools for creating and sustaining such a place.

Ben Sandler
Ventura Park Elementary School
Portland, Ore.

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