Posted by Liz Cobbs | The Ann Arbor News September 15, 2008 

Katie Adams, an eighth-grader at Plymouth-Canton’s Pioneer Middle School, tacks a picture that she drew about peace on a wall. Jesse Lindelbauer, standing behind Katie, is holding “The Peace Book” by Todd Parr, which the eighth-graders are going to read to second-graders in the district. The Pioneer students are participating in a project called “What does peace mean to you?”

Mason Mills, an eighth-grade student at Plymouth-Canton’s Pioneer Middle School, holds a picture that he drew of a man and the sun. At the top of the picture he wrote: “Peace is enjoying nature.”

Mason’s picture is similar to those found in “The Peace Book,” by children’s author and illustrator Todd Parr. Pioneer’s eighth-graders plan to read the book to second-graders at the district’s 15 elementary schools and discuss peace with them.

But first, the older students have to determine what peace means to them. Mason has already done that.

“Peace to me is like if everybody gets along and all races and nationalities can become friends and everybody’s happy,” Mason said.

Mason is among 300 Pioneer eighth-graders participating in a yearlong service-learning project that will take them out of the classroom, with cameras in hand, to photograph images of Plymouth, Detroit and New York City, as well as people they interview. In addition to taking photos, students will create journals to document their experiences.

The interactive project called “Behind the Lens,” is a partnership in its third year between Pioneer and the Plymouth Community Arts Council, which exhibits the students’ photographs.

With last year’s theme of “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin for “out of many, one”) students focused on the commonalities and diversity of communities.

This year the focus is on what peace means to each of the students, said Ben McMurray, Pioneer’s assistant principal. He coordinates the project with Carmen Johnson, a visual arts and photojournalism teacher, and Claire Swisher, language arts and photojournalism teacher.

“We wanted to explore peace because it has many dimensions,” McMurray said. ” … And, this is the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol.”

The project is also designed to further students’ understanding of fine arts, language arts and visual arts.

In addition to interviewing Plymouth residents this year, the students will take a field trip to the Heidelberg Project, an art site in Detroit, and will travel to New York in April, with cameras in hand.

Pioneer eighth-grader Matthew Whitehead said he’s excited about the peace project.
“Not only do we get to teach second-graders … we still are learning what peace is to us,” Matthew said. “Peace means something different to everybody, and by listening to others, you get your own idea of what peace means to you.”

Talking about peace might actually bring about peace, said Kelley Donnelly, an eighth-grader who’s ready for the challenge.

‘I’m excited about what people have to say,” Kelley said. “The more people talk about peace, the more they think it will happen.”

What does peace mean to you

What: Plymouth Community Arts Council exhibit of photographs taken last school year by Plymouth-Canton’s Pioneer Middle School eighth-grade students during field trips to New York City and Detroit.

Where: Community Financial Members Federal Credit Union, exhibit sponsor, 500 S. Harvey St., Plymouth.

When: The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 23. It can be viewed during regular business hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

For more information: Call Pioneer Middle School, 734-416-2770.