How to start a Peace Club in your local Schools
Pat Alviso / Military Families Speak Out - This information is written for peace activists who want to facilitate a peace club in their local high school. The information it contains is based on years of experience collected by two long time peace club facilitators in Southern California. We hope that this information will inspire you to start and build a peace club in your area and that you will be able to benefit from our many years of combined experience starting and continuing to sponsor peace clubs. It is our intention that this booklet is only a springboard for creating a peace club in your area. We recognize that only you can build and develop your own peace club into a club that can be a unique and powerful group of student activists who can help bring and sustain a culture of peace into our schools.
Why Start a Peace Club?
Starting and supporting a peace club in your area can be some of the most rewarding work you will ever experience. You get the opportunity to work with youth and be a part of a change for generations to come. You can make a big difference in your community by helping our youth become aware that there are alternatives to war and violence and that they have the power to make changes for peace. At many high schools, military recruiters roam campuses unchecked, collect phone numbers and bring an alarming amount of information inside schools that glorifies war and promotes military enlistment as just another career choice. This goes on almost daily in high school campuses around the nation without anyone challenging this message, even though very few veterans gain employment related to the training they receive in the military. Every day our youth make uninformed decisions about joining the military just because they never hear the other side of the story. Peace clubs can confront the issue of violence and war by providing alternatives such as diplomacy, humanitarian aid. They can learn and practice the skills they need in order to create and model tolerance.
Thoughtful discussions about peace and calls for action rarely take place in the classroom. You can bring a world of information about some of the issues students face and care about- issues even your teacher sponsor may not know about. An important by-product of the formation of peace clubs is that students become aware of their own power. They learn that it is possible to change the world if they apply themselves. Creating a peace club gives you, a caring member of the community, an opportunity to create a platform which students need in order to accomplish this.
What is a Peace Club?
Most comprehensive public high schools have clubs that meet on campus every week at lunch or after school. Their purpose is to provide support so that students can utilize their free time getting involved in a particular interest, service or career. A few examples include Chess, United Nations, MECHA, Debate, Gay Straight Alliance, American Red Cross, Drama or Future Teachers of America clubs. The best and most successful clubs require an interested teacher to supervise club meetings for legal and safety reasons.
If you are interested in starting a peace club, know that there is no definitive guide that explains exactly what a peace club should or shouldn’t be. We believe the best practice for successful peace clubs is to have student driven activities. This means that students should also have a say in the focus of your club. You will find that the topic of peace is very large and encompasses many areas such as justice, counter-recruitment, human rights, leadership training, and stopping wars. The point is, only you and your students can determine what works best for the culture at your school and what in the end will garner the most enthusiasm and participation. When you first begin planning activities make sure to match activities to your student-chosen focus, but as the year goes on, feel to suggest and explore new areas such as alternatives to military enlistment or topical issues such as a refugee crisis project. (See activity sheet for other topics).
Planning to attend a school every week during the school year for about 30 minutes, may not seem like a big commitment, but it is. Expect that you will be involved in agenda planning before club meetings, and debriefing sessions afterwards. You will also need to be at every off-campus event that you endorse. If you or most of your club officers don’t attend off-campus events, why should they? Each event will require you to do much planning beforehand such as getting materials ready and approved and transportation if necessary. If you are unable to make most of the club meetings, you really should look for other ways to make an impact at your school, (see below for ideas) or get a partner who is willing to be there and can cover for you when you can’t make it. Like teachers, you will have summers and holidays off. Usually this includes a week off in the spring, two weeks in the winter and a few days around Thanksgiving. You may also find that some of your best planned days will be cancelled without notice to you due to assemblies, special schedules etc. Try to remember that this has nothing to do with your club being accepted or not and teachers deal with this every day. Just go with it.
What many teachers know and few outsiders realize, is that students have more free speech rights while they are on campus than do their teachers and administrators. Students are generally very happy to learn that they can pass out literature, print ads in school newspapers and promote almost any controversial point of view while at school. “The Bill of Rights” and various court decisions grant them the power to hand out leaflets, wear arm bands and organize free speech activities as long as they stay within reasonable time, place and manner guidelines established by the school. Unlike outside community groups, students do not have to show that recruiters have already been granted a specific forum in their school in order to exercise their right to speak out on that issue”* *
For more information, refer to the document “Equal Access to Counter Militarism in High School, (Rev. 2006) an invaluable and extensive guide for student rights on the issue of free speech and counter recruitment, which can be found at: (http://projectyano.org/pdf/Equalaccess2006.pdf)
Gather a Working Team
You really only need two adults to run a peace club, and one may include your teacher sponsor. It is strongly recommended that you find a young, like-minded, college-age person to join your team. (Consider interns and offering honorariums). High school youth love meeting people closer to their age doing peace work, they make terrific role models and if they are in college, their schedules align easily. They are also invaluable source for advice regarding what activities will most likely be popular and which are likely to flop. This person can substitute for you when you can’t be there, and can have a larger presence at club meetings. If they are in college they can also promote continuing education. With a college-age student, your job would be to help train a future peace activist and take more of a back seat in the classroom. Equally important is for you to enlist a local organization, such as s peace and justice group that will support the idea of starting a peace club in your area and is one that you can work closely with and report to regularly. Look for a local chapter of Veterans for Peace or other peace and justice group. In Long Beach, our group is The Recruiter Awareness Project, and is made up of supporters, military families and veterans. San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice in Southern California sponsor a peace club and peace camp every year. Such organizational support is invaluable for getting speakers, financial and the human support you will need to provide prizes, treats, literature, and drivers. More importantly, the people in your support organization can serve as steering guides, sounding boards, lend you energy, moral support and keep you on track. Getting a community organization can also help your peace club survive in the long run because principals need community support and are obliged to listen to them. Often these groups are cited as community stakeholders in school accreditation reports.
How to Gain Access to Your School.
The most critical step in getting a peace club started at your school is to begin by finding a teacher who is willing to be the club sponsor. Gaining access by obtaining the support of a teacher or a group of students will result in the most positive outcome for your peace club. However, this will probably be the most challenging task you will encounter when starting a peace club because you are asking a teacher who doesn’t even know you, and is probably overworked and overrun by kids all day long, to take on more work and stress by agreeing to be your sponsor. Keep in mind that teachers have nothing to gain by taking on this extra duty with no pay. They may be reluctant because they know this will cut into valuable break time, and will cost them even more time and trouble getting approvals, running interference, arranging permission, getting announcements made for many activities and being a general ambassador between student activists, the community and school administrators. Adding to this barrier is the fact that teachers worry about job security or possible repercussions which many fear could result in being given a horrible schedule, harassment or even job loss. And even though the topic of “peace” seems relatively benign, it can invite controversy in the school setting. (Think anti- American and student unrest.) Peace club teacher sponsors are putting themselves out there for criticism from their colleagues and administrative bosses. That said, you are also in a position to make this request easier for a teacher to accept by offering to be there and to do the other hard work of guiding and providing community support. You provide a window to community support and offer fresh ideas that are sorely needed in many schools. Do not be discouraged if the process of obtaining a teacher sponsor takes a year or more. Remember, many teachers believe in peace and dozens of other clubs already exist on most high school campuses. Be vigilant and know that there is solid legal precedence for gaining access to schools and free speech rights 1 for students, but it is wisest to wait and work for acceptance and support by the school community. Acquiring a good teacher familiar with school protocol is worth the wait.
If you can’t find a teacher sponsor, and are anxious to get started, you may find like-minded clubs such as justice or progressive politically-oriented clubs already meeting on campus. It just may be easier and smoother to start your peace club by joining already existing club. Make an appointment to talk to that club’s teacher sponsor. One peace club in Lakewood, CA, the MAAPP club California, is part of an existing club that is a student exchange project for its students and Manenberg High School in South Africa. Peace club activities are part of their regular agenda.
Finally, consider the fact that many high schools are extremely complex large communities of young people going through significant intellectual, physical and hormonal changes. As peace activists on a high school campus we must be cognizant and respectful of the endeavor for which teachers and administrators have given their commitment. We are asking for a seat at the table and being confrontational is usually counter-productive. Always keep this in mind when you approach any school staff about starting your peace club.
Important Advisory: There is an extensive amount information on gaining access to schools that can be found in the important resource booklet “Using Equal Access to Counter Militarism in the High Schools” by Rick Jahnkow. (http://projectyano.org/pdf/Equalaccess2006.pdf) Please read this guide carefully before considering other methods of gaining access to a high school as litigation may negatively affect past court decisions on student’s rights
Tips for Finding a Teacher Sponsor:
Your search for a teacher sponsor could include talking to students, teachers, para-educators [unfamiliar with this term. Is a para-educator like a teachers’ aid?}, graduates or other school staff members that attend, have family or work in that particular district in which you would like to sponsor. Ask them if they know of a friendly teacher.
- Ask students if they already have a peace club at their high school. Sometimes a club may have a like- minded name like a justice or civil rights group. Consider asking if you can add your peace agenda to theirs. One active group in Orange County CA worked through a MECHA (Chicano Student Association) group; another is part of an AIDS Prevention student exchange project between students at a school in Lakewood, CA and students at Manenberg High School in South Africa.
- Get contacts from students by asking if they know of a teacher on their campus that they think favors students’ rights, justice, is into politics or even protesting. Sometimes they refer to us as hippies! You may find a teacher sponsor by addressing your local teacher’s union meeting or Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Sometimes other peace activists know like-minded teachers, so ask to be included on the agenda for their organization.
- Distribute literature at a well-attended event in your school community. Be on the lookout for and take time to meet teachers and students who may pass by and ask if they might be interested in starting a peace club. Leave them with a simple business-sized card asking, “Are you or a teacher you know interested in starting a peace club at _____High School?”
If you have a teacher sponsor, the hardest part is done- now it’s time to work out the details. Start your planning by asking school staff or search online for the school’s calendar which has the regular and special day schedules for the upcoming school year. Lay out some ideas of activities around seasonal dates such as Martin Luther King Day or Memorial Day. (See sample calendar below). By-laws and Club Rush [unfamiliar with this term] are standard club requirements. By-laws don’t usually take much time to complete. It sounds tedious, but it’s usually just a matter of submitting your application which asks for the club’s mission, club officers, meeting times etc. Ask your teacher sponsor for a sample application and since your teacher or club president will most likely be the one to submit this for approval, make sure they provide input for this part and follow the deadlines for submission, which is often before the previous school year ends.
Club Rush¹/ Club Booths is a time honored tradition at many schools and is held at the beginning of each school year. Its purpose is to publicize and attract students into joining your club. This is how most clubs get the majority of their membership. Since all clubs are competing for membership during a short period of time, (usually at lunch), prepare your table or booth with your club’s information, giveaways, (lollipops, wrist bands etc.), and some enthusiastic students. Attractive signs, with pictures of students doing peace work can be very helpful. A sign- up list is essential.
Getting There- As an outsider, you don’t want to scramble every week for a parking space or be held up at the main office every week waiting for permission to enter campus. Security can be very tight. Don’t expect your teacher sponsor to take care of this or even know the protocol for parking or getting on campus quickly. Ask the office staff if ID badges and parking passes are needed and allow plenty of time to get the necessary permits for you and your partner and to get them processed.
Be aware that having a peace club on campus may invite controversy. Anticipate and head off any problems of this kind by framing your message with terms that are positive and inclusive. If you are focused on counter recruitment, begin early by explaining to students that you can be against the war and but still support the troops. You may have students with parents or other loved ones that are currently serving or have served in the military. For this reason, choose and employ phrases such as “Love the Soldier Not the War” and “Truth in Recruiting” instead of “Counter Recruitment”. Replace anti-war messages with the more positive message of being pro-peace. This practice will go a long way in helping you get and give the essential support you, your teacher sponsor and your club will need in the long run. Also, activities such as packages for the troops or letter writing, or memorial displays on Memorial or Veterans Day will carry a message you many may find inclusive because we all mourn the loss of troops and innocent civilians in war time, even if you support war. If you are tackling other hot-button topics like Palestine, Black Lives Matter etc., take time to think about how there will always be some people quick to identify you as anti- Semitic, racist or a terrorist supporter. Don’t let that stop you, just get ahead of them by making sure you are using the friendliest and most inclusive terminology or phrase you can.
Curriculum and Activities
There are many resources that have been created that are useful for peace clubs to use. The main difficulty in providing lessons that teach peace building is that most clubs meet at lunch and that means you have only about 20 minutes of actual meeting time [Interesting – most clubs at the schools I’m familiar with meet after school]. How can you manage club business and provide workshops in such a limited time? As you look for good curriculum (see below), you will find that most activities require time to build trust building and can take up to an hour to implement successfully. You still will have weekly club business to take care of such as elections, permission slips, activity details, group decisions to make. If you have a peace club that meets for only a few minutes a week, make plans to hold larger workshop sessions after school or as part of an outside activity. Another approach is to break down the most essential activities into shorter segments that can fit into your short meetings, or have workshops once a month instead of your regular peace club business. Icebreakers are very popular for building friendships and strengthening your club. Take some time and review a comprehensive collection of peace building activities, which can be found in HIPP – Help Increase the Peace training and curriculum manual . There are many fun and well thought out activities, icebreakers, and thought provoking workshops. You can order the manual from American Friends Service Committee at https://www.afsc.org/resource/hipp-manual. Additional curriculum you may find useful include the following: “Teaching Tolerance”, trainings by Teachers for Social Justice, “Peacebuilders” manuals, and a number of good resources from The American Friend Services such as the “Before you Enlist and After You Say No” Training Manual.
- Every school and every school district has their own protocol and culture. Once you get a teacher sponsor, learn everything you can about your school first. Read the school handbook and talk to others that have worked successfully as outsiders in the schools. ( Boys and Girls Clubs, Optimist and Soroptimist Clubs etc.) Talk to students and parents off campus and search online. Join the PTA if at all possible.
- The initial approach you use will be critical to determining whether you will be granted the access to a school. Never start with a principal or administrator. As advised earlier, start by contacting friendly students or teachers. Avoid demanding equal access rights at all costs and seek advice before contacting administration. To find out more read "Using Equal Access to Counter Militarism in High Schools." It's a report based on years of experience gaining access to schools. It can be downloaded at http://projectyano.org/pdf/Equalaccess2006.pdf.
- It was stated before, but always be aware that your teacher sponsor is very conscious about job security, their reputation as a professional and being able to do their jobs without interference from administrators and parents who only know what their students tell them. Do what you can to be low-key, as open and supportive as possible and follow her/his guidance to show that you understand that running interference for the club has its risks. You can do this by making sure your teacher knows and approves of everything you are presenting. (See below)
- “Transparency is my watchword” , says Chris Venn, who has been sponsoring a high school peace club in Southern CA since 2003 and has organized successful peace camps for 11 years. “I make sure that the teacher sponsor of the peace club and the school principal knows what material the club is distributing on campus or tabling with and when. I seek a cooperative relationship with the principal so that the club can reach as many students and teachers as possible. There are many military families at our high school and I don’t want the principal to be surprised by any of our activities. This approach has been so successful, that this year the principal turned over an entire week of campus activity for our peace club to coordinate, and as a result, the peace club president was able to speak to over 1,500 students over a 4 day period!”
- Clubs are usually led by the club president and vice president. Start elections early so that students witness that you are a student driven club and see what student leadership looks like. In ABC Unified, our peace club has a president, vice president, media, membership representative and a historian. (We’ve found students prefer the title of historian, whose duties include attendance and minutes, over secretary because “secretary” implies that they will be doing a lot of writing.) The president chairs the meetings, not the teacher sponsor or you. You will need to find a regular time to plan agendas and debrief outside of the club meeting time and before every club meeting, so consider coming at lunch on another day, getting permission for your club officers to meet that same day during an elective class, (teacher’s aide, homeroom etc.), or plan t by teleconference call.
- Allow club officers and leaders to conduct the meetings with as little interruptions as possible. It is tremendously difficult and risky for a student to lead a meeting in front of their peers. Frequent interruptions destroy confidence. Try your best to not interrupt.
- An important part of establishing respect is to set your club guidelines early. Address the need for listening and no side conversations. Discuss the need for better listening strategies such as non-verbal clues and time keepers.
- Bring veterans and military families with you to club meetings whenever possible. Make them a visible part of your team even if they can only join you once or twice a year. They dispel most opposition to the anti- military stereotype you most likely will have to address. Search veteransforpeace.org/ speaker’s bureau, aboutfaceveterans.org/ and mfso.org for referrals nationwide.
- Never allow yourself to be alone in a classroom with a student- you put your club, and teacher sponsor in jeopardy, and also leave yourself open for serious problems or accusations. Make sure your team knows this as well. For this reason, never collect student phone numbers or contacts or give out another person’s contact, including that of your teacher sponsor. All student information should be confidential and collected by teachers or students only. Do not communicate or accept any students as a friend on social media or take pictures without permission. (See permission to photograph in your school student handbook).
- To communicate and get information and activity notifications, ask your teacher if they can use Reminder 101 or What’s App. These cell phone applications do not give phone numbers to others on the list and is used to make group text announcements. Many teachers are already familiar with these apps and use them to remind students of homework or projects deadlines.
- Too often, I meet idealistic, good hearted people anxious to work with youth but wind up using club time as platforms for expressing their opinions or trying to teach! Do not allow yourself or others to sabotage your agenda and lose valuable student time. Invite them to address your club as a guest speaker. A sign that this is happening is a noticeable drop in attendance. This tells you that students are not invested in this discussion. This can also happen when a student is allowed to dominate the agenda or discussion. Don’t let this happen. Set limits on talking time. (See below and refer to curriculum suggestions for more information).
- Successful peace clubs are run by students and their voices need to be heard. Good rule of thumb: no adult should talk more than 3-4 minutes unless they are a guest speaker. Clubs that meet at lunch only usually get 30 minutes to meet and this doesn’t account for passing and the time they need to get their lunches. Students have been lectured to all day and will return to more lecturing after class. They don’t want to spend their “off time” listening to you.
- Do not bring too many outsiders to your meetings. It can make your teacher sponsor very uncomfortable and can give the impression that students are being used for show and tell. Students will trust you if you protect their privacy and the integrity of the club.
- This may seem silly, but bringing cookies or treats such as easy to peel tangerines or string cheese to every meeting goes a long way in making friends, increasing attendance and in some cases, you will find this is the only food some students will have during the school day. It is also an icebreaker activity in itself.
- If you are doing fundraising never allow students to keep the money after an activity or take money home yourself. In ABC School District all funds are given to a campus administrator’s designee in order to avoid theft issues. If there is no rule for where funds are kept, have your teacher sponsor hold it. Ensure receipts and records are kept.
Other Ways to Make an Impact on Schools
Sometimes it’s just too difficult to get a peace club started in the high school you want. Consider trying another school. If that isn’t possible here are some other ways to make an impact for peace:
- Peace themed Assemblies-Screen films such as The Ground Truth or invite veterans to speak
- Career Fairs-Encourage positive and peaceful career choices. Contact Michelle Cohen for material from Project Great Futures in Los Angeles. https://projectgreatfutures.wixsite.com/alternatives
- PTA- Get and give input on firm policies that military recruiters should follow while on campus, such as visiting areas and times. PTA members are also interested in protecting student privacy (see Opt Out)
- Classroom Speakers- See assemblies for topics and consider bringing in Veterans for Peace or hold debates on topics such as drone warfare in civics and history classes when they are reviewing modern problems. Also, after exams, teachers often have some leeway to include extra lessons
- Leafleting at Schools- Outside by non-students; inside and outside by students (see nnomy.org/ Back to School Kit for up-to- date brochures you can download for free).
- Also, check out our palm cards to distribute at school. They can be found at the War Resisters League in New York City and ordered in quantities at https://www.warresisters.org/store/questions-consider-palmcard.
- Opt Out- Work to protect student privacy by educating parents and students that their private information is given to military recruiters without parental consent. Promote the use of opt out forms so that this doesn’t happen. Find out more at https://nnomy.org/en/resources/counter-recruitment/opt-out-student-lists.html.
- ASVAB testing- Many students take these “career” tests but don’t realize the military provides the test and receives test results. For more information check out the page at https://nnomy.org/en/what-is-militarization/school-militarization/by-program/asvab-testing.html.
- Awards ceremonies/scholarships- Recognize students who enter peace essay contests, speeches, art or other peace projects
- If you or your organization are planning to start a peace club or participate in any of the activities mentioned in this brochure, we invite you to add your name to our national directory at: https://nnomy.org/organizations.
This information was written with the support from members of NNOMY, (National Network Opposed to the Militarization of Youth). Up-to-date Truth in Recruiting Literature can be downloaded free at nnomy.org. NNOMY also provides a wealth of information and support about stopping militarism in the schools. Editing and invaluable contributions were made by NNOMY members Rick Jahnkow of Project YANO in San Diego, CA, Chris Venn, of San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice in CA and Libby Frank of the Northwest Suburban Peace and Education Project in Chicago. If you have any questions or need guidance or support to start a peace club, or demilitarize our schools you can contact any one of us at:
Note: This is a guide for community activists, but it is equally important to provide a guide for students who want advice on recruiting students to their club, conducting meetings and linking up with students from other clubs who may feel isolated on their campuses. Please call Chris or Pat if you would like help producing a student guide.
If you would like detailed information on getting into schools- Project YANO has extensive experience and success in gaining access to schools. They offer expert advice on alternative approaches to gaining access to schools (http://projectyano.org/pdf/Equalaccess2006.pdf)
*Using Equal Access to Counter Militarism in High School, Revised 2006, by Rick Jahnkow.
1. At the beginning of each semester there is a club rush in which each club in the school has a table and encourages other students to become involved in the community and the school by joining the club. Club rush has a variety of clubs for students to join based on their interests.
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