Steamboat Springs Peter Yarrow of the folk group "Peter, Paul and Mary" magically turned a roomful of adults into small children again Monday night, getting them to sing along to tunes of hope and redemption in the face of school violence.
Yarrow kicked off the first day in a three-day series on character education with a series of songs and lessons intended to make a point.
His audience consisted of local educators, administrators, parents, students and community leaders.
Yarrow is traveling throughout the country to promote his program, "Don't Laugh at Me," aimed at eliminating the tendency toward ridicule and disrespect all too common in schools today.
The program looks to show teachers, counselors and parents how to institute policies of respect and tolerance in the classroom that can eventually extend outside the walls of the school.
"If children grow up in an atmosphere that allows them to grow not just intellectually, but also emotionally, socially and ethically...they will be far less likely to hurt each other," Yarrow said.
Brett Langstaff, a freshman at Steamboat Springs High School, said the program taught him much about what can be done for young people in the future that may not have been done in the past.
"If this was introduced to schools at a younger age it would have a better impact than what I had when I was younger," he said.
He said if children are allowed to feel comfortable with each other at a younger age, they may feel more at ease opening up about their problems when they grow up.
Gayle Dudley, the vocational director at the high school, said Yarrow's program can help the school build on the progress it has made in social and emotional learning with Challenge Day, during which students share personal difficulties.
Hank Kashiwa, a former Olympian and entrepeneur, is working with Yarrow to institute a brand of activism with a distinct local flavor.
Kashiwa said he feels that Olympians a plentiful commodity in Steamboat Springs can act within established programs such as Yarrow's "Don't Laugh at Me" to guide
His foundation is called Athletes for Character Education.
Kashiwa said he is two to three weeks away from completing a television pilot that he will take to sponsors to get funding for a television special on the ACE program featuring local Olympians.
"Steamboat is our pilot for the country," Kashiwa said.
He hopes eventually to be able to include more of the approximately 9,000 Olympic athletes in the U.S. in the ACE Foundation and perhaps take the program to a global level one day.
A number of Olympians, including Moose Barrows and George Torruella, were present at the event, as were Olympians from other parts of the state.
Sarah Will, a three-time paralympian from Vail, said she feels her experience as a disabled athlete gives her a particularly unique viewpoint that can allow her to reach other parathletes as well as different kinds of students.
"I have a responsibility to really share the experience of my failures that made me work harder for my successes," Will said. "Hopefully everybody can see something in themselves that they see in me."