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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Education

All they are spelling: Give peace a chance

Times Snohomish County Bureau

In a week in which large-scale fights erupted at some high schools in the region, the message from students at Lynnwood Elementary School was disarmingly sweet: PEACE.

The rain had let up and sun streamed through clouds as about 520 students and their teachers stood tightly packed within the chalked outline of the five letters on a small stretch of grass outside the school.

A ladder truck from the city Fire Department lifted their principal, David Koyama, and a photographer 100 feet in the air to capture the moment for the school yearbook.

The display marked a break between two weeks of test taking for students. It also marked five years of emphasis at the school on character development, nonviolent problem solving, anti-bullying efforts and inclusion.

Koyama said the schoolwide peace initiative began as a response to Sept. 11.

"We thought maybe we can't control what's happening globally, but we can control what happens on our own campus," he said.

The school adopted a policy of no fighting, hitting, shoving or using mean words. Older students meet in small groups with younger students twice a month to discuss a different character word. Classes also talk about the character trait.

This month's word is "perseverance," in honor of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which third- through sixth-graders are taking. Other months have featured "courage" and "acceptance."

Jackie Nguyen, a third-grader in Al Lyon's class at the school, explained how kids interpret the lessons.

"We stand up for people who stand up to bullies," she said.

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At a recent recess, some little kids wanted to play kickball, but the big kids said no. Except for one of Jackie's third-grade classmates, Zachary Anders, who let all of the first-graders onto his team.

"That's how we lost," he said philosophically. "I didn't mind."

Hannah Nguyen, who is in the same third-grade class but is not related to Jackie, said her favorite word was "empathy."

"You put yourself in another person's shoes and see if you can do anything to help them," she said.

That doesn't mean Lynnwood Elementary is a perfect place. Before the kids streamed out to the front lawn, a girl came crying to the office. Her teacher said she had to talk to the principal before she could go back to class.

A sixth-grader, Ramon Cunningham, said some kids violate the rules. But he said he thinks about perseverance.

"You make sure you keep trying and don't give up," he said.

As their principal surveyed the formation from high atop the ladder truck, he raised a bullhorn to his mouth.

"All the letters look solid except for the 'P,' " he said. Several staff members filled in gaps and tried to pull kindergartners out of the circle at the center.

"Hands down, heads up," Koyama's amplified voice called.

The children turned their faces upward, as if sunbathing.

When their principal returned to earth, he led each letter in a cheer.

Give me a "P"! Give me an "E"! Give me an "A"! Give me a "C"! Give me an "E"!

What's that spell?

"Peace!" the kids shouted. "Peace!"

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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