Above, Clockwise from top left, Wonderland Avenue students portray civil rights leaders; Michael Yoon plays ‘Imagine;’ second-grader Saskia Hill watches the assembly from the audience; Levi DeLeon gives his presentation on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photos by James Stenson)

By Eileen Wolter
Wonderland Avenue Elementary School

Principal Sean Teer encourages students to help create a more peaceful world. (Photo by James Stenson)

Celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Wonderland Avenue Elementary’s student leadership committee presented its annual Peaceful Warriors showcase, with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders performing as historic and contemporary figures who embraced the messages of peace and non-violent expression that are the legacy of the civil rights leader.

Students wrote and recited poems entitled “I Am” representing Dr. King, Amma the “Hugging Saint,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dancer Isadora Duncan, anthropologist Jane Goodall, environmentalist Julia Butterfly Hill, labor leader Dolores Huerta, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, educator Anne Carroll Moore, Mother Teresa and Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai. Student Michael Yoon presented John Lennon, ending his performance by playing “Imagine” on his violin.

Originating from Wonderland’s Way of Council, a school-wide program that encourages students to work toward a more peaceful and empathetic way of relating to others, the Peaceful Warriors presentation introduced students to those who have used their voices to work peacefully for social change. Wonderland uses Way of Council as a strategy for promoting academic, social, emotional and organizational growth.

Jane Raphael, a teacher at Wonderland since 1991, has supported the Way of Council program since it was brought to the school in 2007.

“When students feel like they belong, they do better in school. Council helps students, teachers and parents feel seen, heard and connected to one another in a meaningful way. Council builds a sense of community, which is critical for the health of any organization.”

Fourth-grader Graeme Wolter said it was important to him to participate in the Peaceful Warrior assembly, “because Colin Kapernick started an idea about what freedom and being a good citizen means in this country and all he did was kneel down to do it.”

Fifth-grader Levi DeLeon said this of portraying the slain civil rights leader: “Representing my culture through poetry is the best way to do it. It was an honor to be Martin Luther King Jr..”

In his introduction to the students Principal Sean Teer said, ”As we learn about the Peaceful Warriors, remember that at one point, our heroes were young girls and boys just like you. They were curious, worked hard at school, and loved their family and friends, just like you. Always remember, each and every one of you has special qualities. Each and every one of you can help to create a more peaceful world. “

The Peaceful Warrior assembly also served as the start of Wonderland’s second observance of a Season for Nonviolence, running the 64 days from Jan. 30 through April 4, spanning the days between the deaths of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King.  Teachers use the materials in class, in addition to a calendar sent home in the school newspaper, the Howler, featuring age-appropriate activities encouraging kindness, empathy, and compassion.

Madeline Kashkooli, the Howler’s student Co-Editor-In-Chief, writes, “The goal of the initiative is to encourage us to embrace peace through nonviolent action as demonstrated by peaceful leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi among others.”