VAN NUYS : School Observes Day of Peace and Justice

A year after the riots scarred city streets, students in Van Nuys Thursday were marking up the asphalt--this time in the name of peace.

With colored chalk, students drew on the playground their impressions of peace as part of Valley Alternative Magnet School’s 11th annual “Peace Day,” which also included speakers, workshops and activities.

“We picked the 29th of April because we wanted to make a real strong statement about peace and justice,” said Norah Cunningham, a social studies teacher who organized the event with students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The activities were organized to help children learn ways to bring peace to their lives. In one room, a multicultural panel of lawyers told students how the legal system can help. In another, James Tolbert of the San Fernando Valley Arts Council explained how inner peace can be achieved through art.


The anniversary of civil unrest was uppermost in the minds of many students, such as Shane Hughes, 15, of Pacoima.

“During the riots, me and my mom went to the grocery store and got like two weeks’ of food in case something happened. Then we went to my dad’s house in Moreno Valley to get away,” Shane said. “Peace Day is a way to actually show people how we all can get along, no matter what race we are.”

During one workshop, Jamie Soltes, 14, drew a revealing picture of her North Hollywood home. On one side--in a scene entitled “Five Years Ago"--she sketched a swimming pool ringed with friends at a barbecue.

On the other side--in a scene entitled “Today"--she drew a family hiding inside a graffiti-ridden home with a caption that said, “People are so afraid to go out that they don’t have their regular Friday barbecue.”

In addition, a recent survey of 220 students between eighth and 12th grades showed the extent to which security is a concern. Fifty-nine percent of students were afraid of being shot at school and 75% said there are circumstances when they would fight at school.

But 91% of students said they were willing to work to try to bring people together.