Anna Maria Elementary School students and staff will celebrate the United Nations International Peace Day Tuesday, Sept. 24, with the unveiling of a new AME peace pole to replace the one erected on the campus soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
AME guidance counselor Cindi Harrison recalls the autumn day in 2001 that two students from New York City enrolled at the island school. They arrived to enroll at AME from P.S. 69 in Queens, N.Y., on a September morning when all the television sets in the school tuned in to watch President George W. Bush, who was reading to students at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. The president’s reading was interrupted by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who leaned down and whispered in Bush’s ear.
In Queens on Sept. 11, 2001, students at P.S. 69 could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center from the top floor of their school. As the planes hit and people plunged from the buildings, some of the students asked their teachers why there were so many “birds” around the buildings, Harrison recalled being told by staff at the New York school.
“We were very worried about the kids in that school. We now had two of them,” Harrison said. “We wanted to connect with (students still at P.S. 69), and to help them. It took seven days to get a phone line in there.”
Harrison and then-AME principal Tim Kolbe did connect with P.S. 69. “As educators we wanted to respond to our students and our community, and we wanted to respond positively,” Harrison said.
Earlier in 2001, AME had been approached by the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island, which was, and continues to be, an important partner and sponsor at AME.
When asked if the school had a project the Rotarians could help fund, Harrison knew the answer. With the help of the club, the Peace Pole project was initiated. Not just one, but two Peace Poles were purchased — one for AME and one for P.S. 69.
Harrison and Kolbe traveled in April 2002 to New York City to visit P.S. 69 and participate in a Peace Pole dedication there — their pole also was a gift from the island Rotary Club.
They brought with them sand from the AMI beach and added it to the ground around P.S. 69’s pole. AME had another partner in peace.
“It was, is, the most important event of my career, and this is my 38th year,” Harrison said. “Our schools and our children were so different, but they all wanted the same thing. No more war. No more violence.”
The installation of the Peace Pole at AME began an annual celebration of International Peace Day at the school.
This year’s Peace Day theme at AME is “How do you speak peace?” Emphasis is being placed on language and the power of words to create peace and reduce conflict. Students, parents and the community are encouraged to send words or messages of peace to the school to be read at the student event.
“This year is going to be significant. We want to show how powerful words are — more powerful than weapons. I just think it’s so interesting in this conflict with Syria right now. Words matter,” Harrison said.
“Kids are a wealth of inspiration. Our kids have grown up with so much violence. We can tell our children, there is hope. You make a difference. The only way to solve our problems and make the world better is to stand up for what we believe in, promote peace or we’re going to destroy ourselves.”
AME’s Peace Day celebration will begin at 8:45 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 24, in the gardens in front of the school. The celebration will last about an hour and the public is welcome. There will be music, poetry readings, speakers and a presentation of peace messages by the classes.
To share a message of peace, email Harrison at email@example.com, or deliver it to the school at 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.