Peace Education at the Lower School

The Lower School spent the last several days celebrating peace week with a venerable special guest, unique presentations, and a community luncheon. On March 18, Lama Tenzin Yignyen, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk, set up an altar and spent the next four days carefully constructing a sand mandala of compassion in the Atelier. Ross parent Eliza Damiecki was instrumental in organizing this visit, inviting Tenzin to join the Ross community for a week and share his wisdom.

The construction of a sand mandala is considered to be a blessing for the area and the people who live where it is constructed. Through the power of the mandala, the negative energy of the area is believed to be removed and positive energy established. Students in every grade visited Lama Tenzin throughout the week to watch the progression of his beautiful and intricately designed mandala, as well as to listen to him talk about the importance of cultivating peace, compassion, and empathy.

On March 20, the fourth grade completed their Peacemaker Projects with special presentations for parents and other grades. The students studied biography and expository writing in literacy and learned about peacemakers in history. Each wrote a research paper on a chosen peacemaker, created a presentation, and presented an artistic project. They learned about the process of peacemaking and the leaders around the world who have been instrumental in building peace in their communities. Among the peacemakers they chose were Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, John Muir, Cesar Chavez, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Woody Guthrie.

The next day, the Lower School community gathered in the Multi-Purpose Room to listen to Lama Tenzin speak on the importance of educating the heart. He noted that happiness does not come from external things, such as money or material goods, but rather from changing internally to be less selfish, more giving, and more compassionate.

This morning, in the Atelier, students gathered around Tenzin and helped him dismantle the mandala by brushing the sands into the center. He then gathered the sands and traveled with the fourth and fifth grade classes to Long Beach in Sag Harbor, where he offered up prayers as he first tossed grains of sand in the air along the water’s edge, then poured out the sand into the waves lapping at the shore. After a sand mandala has been ritually dismantled, the grains are then poured into a body of water, and it is believed that the sand, which has been blessed throughout the process, will benefit the land and water with which it comes in contact.

On their return to campus, everyone filed into the Lower School Field House for a closing ceremony. Choreographed by theater teacher Margaret Kestler, the ceremony began with a procession of students entering quietly and sitting in a large circle around the faculty, who were also seated in a circle. Seated in the center, Lama Tenzin led everyone in a meditation. Then faculty asked 10 questions for all to ponder, such as, “What is peace?” and “How do we lead a compassionate life?”

This was followed by grade-level offerings for peace, from oldest to youngest: fifth grade offered a symbolic olive branch, as ambassadors passing on the message of peace through action; fourth grade offered symbolic pearls of wisdom, having learned from the peacemakers they studied and passing on those pearls; third grade offered words of peace, expressing gratitude for the experience of it in everyday life; second grade offered their voices, summoning the courage to ask for peace in their world; first grade offered a chant for peace; and kindergarten offered their hands, showing that mindfulness can be demonstrated through hands that touch and reach in peace. Finally, Early Childhood students sang “Namaste,” a song about peace.

The week concluded with the annual Peace Lunch, organized by Ross parent Fiona Dorst and the Lower School Parents Association. Held in the Field House, this popular event brings together the entire Lower School community for a moment of reflection on the importance of peace, followed by a delicious, buffet-style meal prepared by the Ross Café.