What is different about this school?
It is exciting to explain the Peace & Justice Academy to someone learning about us for the first time. On an academic level, we offer what other high schools offer – the classes and credits required to enroll in any major university. Beyond that, we are like a magnet school that specializes in a particular field of study. Such schools may focus on the sciences or the humanities. A high school for the performing arts, for example, is where students may go when they are gifted singers, dancers, or actors. The Peace & Justice Academy is a school for peace activists. In a world racing to its own demise, we are raising the next generation of changemakers. We are a unique educational model. We are an experiment in hope. We are graduating students with a toolkit of strategies, skills, and experiences to reclaim their world.
Everything here begins with emotional safety. To learn, students need an environment in which they can be comfortable in their own skins. It is as simple, and as profound, as the Golden Rule – a tenant of all the world’s great religions. Sometimes students come to school in a bad mood and may be tempted to act as less than their best selves, but there is never a day when a student wants others to be mean to him or her. When students treat each other with kindness and acceptance, they are free to be who they really are, and they blossom.
It turns out that teenagers are quite capable of understanding the complex troubles in the world. And certainly, by the time they graduate and go off to college, we want them to go with their eyes wide open. Furthermore, teenagers are still idealistic enough to work with passion to fix things locally and globally. This idealism is a treasure to be nurtured and cultivated. We are careful to teach about the issues of the world in a way that raises awareness, builds empathy, empowers individuals, and replaces fear with hope.
Once a month we engage students in an experiential-learning field trip called a Peace & Justice Lab. During these excursions, we go beyond the traditional service learning project. A Peace & Justice Lab teaches about a social justice issue from the viewpoint of the victim. It invites students to imagine what it would be like if they were experiencing that injustice. It reminds students that when we serve others, it is not “us” serving “them.” There is only “us.” We also have separate Service Opportunities that allow students and families to put hands and feet to their faith and engage around the issues experienced in the Peace & Justice Labs.
Finally, what makes us most unique, perhaps in all the world, is our Interfaith model. We are reconfiguring our board of directors, our faculty, and our curriculum to represent the religious diversity in the San Gabriel Valley. We believe that a person’s spiritual makeup is integral to the person and should not be left at the schoolyard gates. We believe that all faiths share a common love of peace and justice. We believe that the world’s religions should stop being the source of so many conflicts, but rather, they should lead the world, by example and practice, to a future of peace and justice for all. Our hope is that this begins with the Peace & Justice Academy.