PeaceJam catches kids' attention

Steamboat youth listen to Nobel Peace Prize winners

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Steamboat Springs Middle School shop teacher Johnny Walker took a group of students to PeaceJam on Saturday in Denver. They are, front row, from left, Camille Sachs, Kailee Duryea, Laura Bradfield, Kayleigh Esswein and Kayla Stack. Back row, Jack Massey, Jeffrey Gay, Laina Weinman and Michael Savory. Not pictured are Owen McIntosh, Shea O'Brien and sophomore Jamie Gay.

— The silence spoke volumes.

Seated in the University of Denver's Magness Arena, Steamboat Springs Middle School shop teacher Johnny Walker glanced down the row to check on his students.

"I've never seen such good listeners," Walker said.

But Walker's students had never been in the presence of 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu and the 14th Dalai Lama.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," eighth-grader Michael Savory said.

The Saturday peace rally was part of the weekend PeaceJam festivities in Denver. The weekend's events were aimed at teenagers, though the speeches left adults such as Walker and adult chaperone Beth Wieland, a paraprofessional at the middle school, captivated.

"It really was a peace rally without the radicals and foul language," Walker said. "It was half adults, but they spoke to the kids."

Every student who went said it was a valuable experience, and each took something away from the day's speeches.

"Do something. Take action," said Laina Weinman, an eighth-grader. "Thoughts are just thoughts. When you take action, that means something."

The emotional responses the students wrote after the peace conference and the conviction with which they spoke Monday was telling.

"You can't be afraid to stand up against what's wrong," Savory said.

The students left Denver wanting to end world hunger, to educate the world's children and to fight poverty. Doing all three, the students said Monday, would help the fight against the desperation that can lead to terrorism.

It was a point they said the Nobel Peace Prize winners emphasized.

"I felt bad for the speakers," Kayleigh Esswein said. "They couldn't go more than two minutes without someone clapping."

The PeaceJam was held during the middle school's Pinwheels for Peace project, which was a coincidence, Walker said. The middle schoolers spent last week building pinwheels that will be displayed starting Wednesday on the Routt County Courthouse lawn.

Each student built a pinwheel and decorated it with personal symbols of peace. Pinwheels for Peace is a national project that is nonpolitical and nondenominational. It seeks to educate and create an opportunity for students to express their notions of peace.

The high school, elementary schools and Hayden Valley Elementary School also were involved, Walker said.

The pinwheels will be sold at the Dec. 2 Christmas in the Rockies event.

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