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STELLA PRINCIPAL RENEWS COMMITMENT TO PEACE

Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon practiced, preached and sang about it.

And now Stella Niagara is spreading the word: Give peace a chance.

"We are committed to global peace and human rights," said Sister Margaret Sullivan, principal of the 96-year-old Catholic school on Lower River Road. "We want to teach children to be peacemakers, wherever they end up in life."

That commitment was reinforced last week when Stella Niagara hosted the county's first peace seminar for teachers at Stella and four other area schools.

More than 30 teachers of children ranging in age from 3 to 15 attended the Holistic Orientation for Peace Education (HOPE) seminar conducted by instructors from the Oneness in Peace Spiritual Center, which is in the lower Hudson Valley town of Germantown.

In addition to Stella educators, teachers from Buffalo's St. Joseph University School and SS. Columba-Brigid Montessori, the Center for Joy in Niagara Falls and Nativity of Our Lord School in Orchard Park attended the two-day seminar.

"People came away from that seminar uplifted and energized to cope with a world that deals with violence and prejudice on a daily basis," Sullivan said. "There is a place for peace in this world and a time to behave in a manner that values the dignity of life."

Stella Niagara Education Park, which was designated as a Peace Site in 1989, has 200 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Though Stella Niagara is a Catholic school -- founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis and Christian Charity -- 25 percent of its students are non-Catholic. "Peace goes beyond religion, race, creed or color," Sullivan noted.

"The teachers will now use the instructions and inspiration they received to instill the message of peace and dignity in their students, who in turn will share it with countless others for years to come," she added.

"HOPE is a nonviolence approach to empowering youngsters to bring peace into their hearts, homes and community," said Joseph Pillittere, Stella's director of institutional advancement.

"The program uses a holistic approach to peace education through hands-on activities," said Claire Langie, one of the instructors.

One activity provides students with photographs of such people of peace as Mother Teresa, Gandhi and King, which they carry into the school chapel for a "rededication ceremony," Sullivan explained.

"Activities like this benefit both student and teacher, and are excellent tools to effectively deal with a range of problems, from verbal harassment to prejudice," added Sister Virgilia Jim, the other instructor.

Another technique is to form prayer partnerships by pairing older students with younger pupils and having the older child serve as a mentor of peace and harmony for the younger one.

"As the years go on, the younger child will pass on the values he learned at an early age to other younger children, and so on, creating generations of peacemakers," Sullivan said.

Sullivan has a "peace corner" in her office, containing two chairs where pupils who are not getting along or who are having difficulty communicating their differences in a peaceful manner can sit down and deal with their feelings, one-on-one.

"Peace begins in the school," she said

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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