Students unite for annual Peace Week

LORI WINCE, ThisWeek Community News
New Albany High School students Bianca Cavender, Ben Yarbrough and Kristen Schwentker listen to music during the final day of Peace Week on Friday, April 25. The three went prepared for rainy weather and decided to use their gear even when the annual lunch on the lawn was moved into the gymnasium.

New Albany High School students say the annual Peace Week, celebrated April 21-25 this year, is a time for inclusion.

"It's a time for the whole school to get together united and enjoy life," said Chinenye Bosah, a 16-year-old sophomore.

Classmate Charlotte Matt, 16, agreed.

"It's a time to put our differences aside and work together to achieve a common goal," Matt said.

The two said they enjoy the high school's lighter atmosphere during Peace Week, which was organized by students 15 years ago in response to the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

The intent was to create a positive, inclusive environment at the high school.

Students are out of class for several days during the weeklong celebration.

On April 21, they welcomed incoming principal Dwight Carter, who spoke to the students and then met informally with them during lunch.

They listened to former Ohio State University running back Maurice Clarett speak April 22 about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, which he said destroyed his football career.

On April 23, students chose to attend one of 15 seminars in which they learned about problems they can help solve.

Many watched their peers perform The Laramie Project, which details people's reactions to University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard's torture and murder in October 1998.

Others watched Unchained, a fashion show that used dresses designed by Korto Momolu to tell the story of women who are snared in human trafficking.

The dresses were modeled by New Albany High School students, some of whom wore black X's on their faces to signify the victims' plight. One dress had the sleeves tied together so the hands were not free and another covered the model's mouth; both were designed to show the helplessness of the victims.

Senior Lokita Rajan, 17, who modeled in the show, said Unchained gave her and the other models an opportunity to "do something bigger than ourselves" by representing the human-trafficking victims and their struggles.

Show organizer Stephanie Catani told students some studies say 90 percent of prostitutes have been victims of human trafficking and that it happens not only outside the United States but also in parts of Columbus.

"It was inspirational and eye-opening," Matt said.

Bosah agreed. She said students sometimes live in a bubble and think bad things can't happen in a place like New Albany.

"Now we know it's really close," she said.

Students returned to class April 24 and were back out again April 25 for the annual House Games and the lunch on the lawn, where student musicians and bands performed and local restaurants provided food. The entertainment and food were moved inside the high school gymnasium, however, because of rainy weather.

"This is something the students look forward to all year," said Steve Gehlert, assistant high school principal.

Gehlert, who previously was middle school principal, said when he came to the high school in the fall of 2013, he quickly learned how important Peace Week was to students.

"The atmosphere is always super fun," he said. "They put away their differences and forget the cliques and really spend time reflecting and focusing on how to treat each other."

Rajan said Peace Week takes away the "things that put us into special groups" and allows the students "to come together."

"We're all New Albany High School students and we're all just having a good time together," she said.