Several hundred people walked onto the softball field at Freeport High School Saturday and formed a giant peace symbol. Then they marched around the community, touting togetherness and tolerance.
The first thing schools Superintendent Kishore Kuncham wanted onlookers to know, though, was that the event hadn't been sparked by an incident. "If there's a peace march, people assume something must have happened," he said.
Kuncham said he launched the annual event last year to underscore lessons in peace and racial diversity the Freeport Union Free School District is teaching in classrooms.
At Leo F. Giblyn School, elementary students now read books about peace. Hallways are marked with street signs with names like Tolerance Turnpike and Respect Road.
The district last year began incorporating yoga in physical education classes.
"Math and science are very important," Kuncham said, "but in addition to knowledge about subject areas, it's important to inculcate kindness, good character peace and harmony. . . . Those are things that make you a true human being, and a responsible and caring individual."
Arthur Debin, a Freeport High earth sciences teacher, was dressed head to toe Saturday in yellow -- the color of peace, according to event organizers.
Debin, 62, praised Kuncham for bringing "a new vibe" to local schools, even putting inspirational messages on the value of diversity in teachers' mailboxes each week.
As students, teachers, parents and community members formed the human peace symbol, Kuncham told them it was more than a demonstration.
"The flap of a butterfly in the Amazon has an effect," he said. "The spark we're creating today, like the flapping of the butterfly, will spread to the rest of the world."
Eileen Schultis, 51, a high school economics teacher, said the peace rally taught youngsters valuable lessons.
"When they have the ability in the future to make change, they will have learned that we are a community," she said.