When we started the pilot program a year ago, we asked some of the schools to perform pre- and post-assessments on students so we could document the way in which their perceptions about peace and peace heroes changed throughout the year. The questions we suggested were simple ones, like what is peace and how does the word peace make you feel; is peace weak or strong; who is a hero, and so forth. Once the pre-assessments were completed, I set them aside until the end of the school year, when we would have the opportunity to compare them to the post-assessments, which would consist of the exact same questions as those given at the beginning of the year.

Needless to say, I was curious to see what this exercise might reveal, but it wasn’t until the end of the school year that I finally had the opportunity to make the comparison. At the end of June, I received my first bundle of post-assessments from one of our pilot schools in Kenya (where peace heroes were taught from kindergarten through 8th grade). I spent a good many hours pouring over the students’ pre- and post-assessments, looking both at individual students’ changing perceptions as well as overall (and more general) trends. The information is too extensive to condense into a short blog post, but I would like to share a small sampling of some of my general observations. At the end you will also find some delightful student quotes from the post-assessment questionnaires.

One of the first things I noticed as I leafed through the pages was the difference in both the quality and depth of the students’ answers. Just from glancing at the sheets (and without even reading through them) I could see a difference in the level of engagement: In the pre-assessments, most students gave one-word or half-sentence answers to questions, while in the post-assessments, answers were much longer and more comprehensive. Quite naturally, students just had a lot more to say at the end of the year than at the beginning.

But once I started to read through the post-assessments, I discovered that it is what the students said that was the most revealing. What struck me immediately is the way the students broadened their understanding of who is a peace hero, as many of them, in answer to that question at the end of the year, listed their friends, people at their school, their Peace Heroes teacher, and even themselves (“Me! I’m a peace hero!” wrote one student). This is in stark contrast to the pre-assessments, as at the beginning of the year students either listed one or two famous figures or none at all. What happened during the year in this regard is significant: the students came to understand that anyone can be a peace hero, even (and especially) those within their immediate sphere of influence. They learned about famous people “out there,” but in the process they grasped the most important message embedded in these people’s stories – that “peace begins with me.”

Another observation was the way the students’ perceptions of peace itself also changed. At the beginning of the year, when asked if peace is weak or strong, many (though not all) of the students wrote (in that one-word style of theirs) “weak.” In the post-assessment, every single one of the students wrote that peace is strong. One student wrote: “Peace is very powerful and can have a big impact on people.” And another said: “I used to think of peace as weak and that it can’t do anything, but I realize what it really can do now.” One student qualified his answer, saying, “at the beginning it is weak, but then it gets really strong at the end.” Even with this qualification, it is evident that all the students developed a much deeper appreciation for peace as a force to be reckoned with.

The change in the students’ definition of the word “hero” was also interesting to note, as a good number of them wrote not only that it is someone inspiring, but also someone who works for others and not for his or her own gain. Their refinement of the definition reveals how, throughout the year, the students came to realize that people working for peace – the heroes of this world – are essentially selfless, sacrificing, and outward looking. Yes, the students grasped that “peace begins with me,” but they also demonstrated an understanding of the way this peace must extend outward – towards others – to be of any value at all. One student summed it up this way: “Peace, when used for selfish goals, is not peace (just a personal reflection).”

As promised, I am adding a small selection of student quotes from the post-assessment questionnaire, which I hope you’ll enjoy as much I did.

What is Peace?

“Peace is something special that comes from inside your heart and if you don’t have peace in you, well then you should find it.”

“Peace is equity when there is no war and no need for revolts, where hunger and disease are not in the way of friendship.”

“Peace is when you can invite friends to talk, eat, and have parties.”

How would you define the word hero and who is a hero to you?

“A hero to me is a person who does something good and amazing for the world. The definition of hero to me is someone who stands up for the world.”

“A hero is someone who makes a difference for the better. A hero to me is someone who helps inequality, world hunger, and disease.”

“You look out for others and not just for yourself. Someone that inspires me.”

Tell me something else you have learnt during Peace Heroes this year

“That usually you must listen to both sides of the story to resolve a conflict.”

“How brave and inspiring they are to me. And how they made just a big influence.”

How does the word peace make you feel?

“Like someone who comes from heaven and puts a beautiful light inside your heart and tells you to spread it.”

We are now entering our second year of this pilot program and I am excited to see how it might continue to influence more students around the world. I hope you are too! I am grateful to each and every one of you who has kept up with this year’s developments and has encouraged us in all kinds of beautiful and heartfelt ways. It is my great pleasure to invite you to continue with us on this journey as we add a number of new (and extremely diverse) schools to the program.

Let Year Two begin!