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Jeffco students spread message of peace

All school violence comes down to one thing – hate.

That’s what Standley Lake English teacher Ben Reed believes.

It happened at Virginia Tech in 2007, when a gunman killed 32 people. It happened here in Colorado in 1999, when 13 people were killed in a shooting at Columbine High School. Reed believes “that the shooters were winning, controlling us and the  students were still in fear.”

Students and staff at Westminster’s Standley Lake High decided to bring change to their school in 2007. Reed’s English class started talking and came up with a plan that involved having the whole school wear white on the same day to represent school unity and the community’s fight against violence. That was the beginning of  Day Without Hate, which is now spreading across Colorado and beyond.

“It’s hard to keep track of how many schools and states are actually participating,” Reed said. “It’s a grassroots movement. We want students to take the idea and make it their own.”

This year, the event was held Thursday since students didn’t have school Friday. They opted to show their unity and share a message of peace with a rally and a “peace tree.”

“We decided after Virginia Tech that we needed to do something right away,” Reed said. “Students wore white on the last Friday of April and it’s been tradition since. It’s a release and reminder of what’s good.”

White T-shirts, ‘peace tree’ and more

Standley Lake decided to do a school-wide project in its second Day Without Hate and included a few other high schools in Jeffco as well. Generally, schools develop their own Day Without Hate projects and Standley Lake High School organized a ‘peace tree’ this year, in addition to the rally.

Peace Jam, an international education program built around leading Nobel Peace Laureates with the goal to inspire a new generation of peacemakers, assembled the tree out of pipes and the leaves out of fabric, Christy Hayashi, Peace Jam co-sponsor, said.

“We made 32,000 fabric leaves and distributed them to the feeder schools including elementary and middle schools.”

The students were encouraged to write a message of peace and inspiration to be hung on the tree.

At Standley Lake  Thursday, students were also encouraged to give someone they didn’t know well a compliment, a hug or a high-five during a passing period.

Columbine High School students and staff welcomed every student to school Friday with a signed flag that will fly on the school’s flag pole until the next Day Without Hate. An assembly was also held.

Scheduled to appear at the rally were Patrick Ireland, the student who fell out of the window of Columbine after being shot; Frank DeAngelis, Columbine principal at the time of the massacre and still principal today; Dawn Anna, mother of shooting victim, Lauren Townsend; and Arthur Leyba, a teacher when the shooting occurred and still a Columbine teacher today.

“Day Without Hate is just the thought of a day where kids feel safe in their own school,” said Columbine student body president  Olivia Leyshock. “They don’t live in fear of being bullied, and everyone is on the same level. No one is better than anyone else.”

Districtwide rally held

Day Without Hate is now a Jeffco-wide event. Committee members made up of students from different schools planned a districtwide rally at Jeffco Stadium.

Students were encouraged to wear white to get the message of peace across. There was even a Day Without Hate shirt that could be purchased.

“We have sold 14,000 Day Without Hate T-shirts,” Reed said. “It’s a class assignment at Warren Tech. All the shirts are made at cost and sold at cost.”

Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, who was killed because of his sexual orientation, was scheduled as keynote speaker. The rally also featured bands and singers. Local band Regret Night was the headliner and a singer from Dakota Ridge High School was also scheduled to perform.

“Day Without Hate is a student-led effort to bring schools and communities together for a celebration of unity, a rejection of fear, and a commitment to work towards nonviolent solutions to any conflict in our school,” Leyshock said.

Learn more

Parents can get involved by contacting their school’s student council and suggesting that student leaders bring the event to their school. For more information,  e-mail daywithouthate@gmail.com.

About our First Person series:

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