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‘Enrichment program’ enriches the lives of all it touches

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

GROTON — Some of the kids involved in the record-breaking “Big Book” project at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School have been on board since the BookMasters and Dreamers Club launched several years ago.

It began as an after-school enrichment program, the brainchild of teacher Betsy Sawyer.

Others have joined since, including this year, when the club participated in the United Nations Peace Ceremony in New York City.

The super-sized book that made the BM&D Club famous — coupled with backup fundraising — is still a work in progress, as costly to produce as it was challenging to create. When it’s done, the giant book, reportedly the biggest in the world, will be a compilation of peace messages solicited from near and far. Letters from celebrities, politicians, neighbors and friends, their hopeful words transcribed on pages so large it will take a special device to turn them, and other contrivances to bear the weight and yardage of the titanic tome, which the Smithsonian Institute in Washington has offered to house.

Despite its proportions, experiences these students are gaining go far beyond the project itself. This fall, for example, the club participated in the U.N. peace ceremony for the second year in a row.

Fifth grade math and science teacher Anne Polaski served as a chaperone both years. “They were young ambassadors of peace,” she said of students she helped supervise on this unique field trip. “We heard famous speakers like Elie Wiesel.”

Wiesel is a Jewish-American writer, political activist and Holocaust survivor who has authored 57 books, one which is based on his experiences as a prisoner in the infamous Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, in part for his “practical work in the cause of peace.”

Wiesel said he was a “keeper of tears” and that his job was to listen to others’ stories of suffering, Polaski continued. It’s a big subject, but she said the sixth- to eighth-graders in this group appreciated the historic occasion and their part in it.

They were focused on their “mission,” including high-school students she’d taught years ago in middle school. “For me to see them grown up to be these committed people was so impressive,” Polaski said. They responded appropriately when spoken to, shook hands, hob-knobbed with famous folks from all over the world.” It was one of the highlights of her 20-year teaching career, she said.

During a recent club meeting, members viewed a video of the New York trip and reviewed their impressions. The itinerary ranged from speeches, original music and poetry and the Peace Bell Ceremony at the U.N. to ground zero, where a cranky firefighter told them the fire station whose emergency door buzzer Sawyer had pressed was a working station, not a museum (they were admitted, after all) to Columbia University, where they met with graduate students majoring in peace studies, the only such program in the nation, Sawyer said.

Club members raised issues that proved the value of the excursion and the intellectual explorations and moral lessons it engendered. One student asked what the Holocaust was. Another wanted to know if “Jewish” was a religion or a race. One student said she learned about countries whose names were new to her. “I never knew there were so many,” she said. Another said he was fired up to research those countries, “but I forgot.” Sawyer reassured him. “Never fear, we have club meetings, my dear!”

.Recalling a speaker at the U.N. who exhorted them to “take action” for peace,” Sawyer said their project was a step in that direction. “Are you guys proud?” she asked. Yes, they were. “I was proud, too,” said Leslie McIntosh, a chaperone whose son was in the group and who watched the ceremony on “live feed” from an adjacent room.

.Asked what they “took home” from the trip, Renee said she e-mailed her grandmother, who lived during the ’60s, an “energized” era of anti-war activism, to ask what she thought of the current generation’s efforts for world peace.

Asked “what is war?” Renee said: “It’s very angry people who can’t express themselves without violence.” Maybe nobody’s listening to these people, or knows how they feel, she concluded.

Zach: “Peace is easier said than done.”

More impressions

* One of the students invited to the U.N. event played a piano that was transported from Japan, a replica of an instrument destroyed in the bombing of Hiroshima.

* A bronze memorial at the “ground zero” fire station was dedicated to “those who fell and those who carry on.”

* More than 300 firefighters died on Sept. 11, 2001, when two of the four U.S. commercial jets hijacked by terrorists that day crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers. The other planes crashed into the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania, the latter believed to be headed for the White House. Hundreds of innocent people died in the attacks.

* At Columbia University, the students learned that many Nobel Peace Prize laureates were Columbia graduates, including President Obama and former vice president Gore.

* As they chatted on an outdoor patio with the Columbia grad students who hosted their visit, the students played a game. Asked to come up with one word for peace, some words and phrases they cited included education, accepting diversity, silence/quietness, human rights, equality, no war, and happiness.

The graduate students were impressed, Sawyer said. “They told us their stories.” One came from Iran. They told their visitors that only about 10 percent of applicants are accepted to Columbia, she said. But in their opinion, the project these Groton-Dunstable students were involved in and which some of them will have dedicated seven or eight years to by the time they graduate high school, would be their ticket to acceptance. “They said they’d get in” on that basis, Sawyer said.

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‘Enrichment program’ enriches the lives of all it touches

‘Enrichment program’ enriches the lives of all it touches
‘Enrichment program’ enriches the lives of all it touches
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

GROTON — Some of the kids involved in the record-breaking “Big Book” project at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School have been on board since the BookMasters and Dreamers Club launched several years ago.

It began as an after-school enrichment program, the brainchild of teacher Betsy Sawyer.

Others have joined since, including this year, when the club participated in the United Nations Peace Ceremony in New York City.

The super-sized book that made the BM&D Club famous — coupled with backup fundraising — is still a work in progress, as costly to produce as it was challenging to create. When it’s done, the giant book, reportedly the biggest in the world, will be a compilation of peace messages solicited from near and far. Letters from celebrities, politicians, neighbors and friends, their hopeful words transcribed on pages so large it will take a special device to turn them, and other contrivances to bear the weight and yardage of the titanic tome, which the Smithsonian Institute in Washington has offered to house.

Despite its proportions, experiences these students are gaining go far beyond the project itself. This fall, for example, the club participated in the U.N. peace ceremony for the second year in a row.

Fifth grade math and science teacher Anne Polaski served as a chaperone both years. “They were young ambassadors of peace,” she said of students she helped supervise on this unique field trip. “We heard famous speakers like Elie Wiesel.”

Wiesel is a Jewish-American writer, political activist and Holocaust survivor who has authored 57 books, one which is based on his experiences as a prisoner in the infamous Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, in part for his “practical work in the cause of peace.”

Wiesel said he was a “keeper of tears” and that his job was to listen to others’ stories of suffering, Polaski continued. It’s a big subject, but she said the sixth- to eighth-graders in this group appreciated the historic occasion and their part in it.

They were focused on their “mission,” including high-school students she’d taught years ago in middle school. “For me to see them grown up to be these committed people was so impressive,” Polaski said. They responded appropriately when spoken to, shook hands, hob-knobbed with famous folks from all over the world.” It was one of the highlights of her 20-year teaching career, she said.

During a recent club meeting, members viewed a video of the New York trip and reviewed their impressions. The itinerary ranged from speeches, original music and poetry and the Peace Bell Ceremony at the U.N. to ground zero, where a cranky firefighter told them the fire station whose emergency door buzzer Sawyer had pressed was a working station, not a museum (they were admitted, after all) to Columbia University, where they met with graduate students majoring in peace studies, the only such program in the nation, Sawyer said.

Club members raised issues that proved the value of the excursion and the intellectual explorations and moral lessons it engendered. One student asked what the Holocaust was. Another wanted to know if “Jewish” was a religion or a race. One student said she learned about countries whose names were new to her. “I never knew there were so many,” she said. Another said he was fired up to research those countries, “but I forgot.” Sawyer reassured him. “Never fear, we have club meetings, my dear!”

.Recalling a speaker at the U.N. who exhorted them to “take action” for peace,” Sawyer said their project was a step in that direction. “Are you guys proud?” she asked. Yes, they were. “I was proud, too,” said Leslie McIntosh, a chaperone whose son was in the group and who watched the ceremony on “live feed” from an adjacent room.

.Asked what they “took home” from the trip, Renee said she e-mailed her grandmother, who lived during the ’60s, an “energized” era of anti-war activism, to ask what she thought of the current generation’s efforts for world peace.

Asked “what is war?” Renee said: “It’s very angry people who can’t express themselves without violence.” Maybe nobody’s listening to these people, or knows how they feel, she concluded.

Zach: “Peace is easier said than done.”

More impressions

* One of the students invited to the U.N. event played a piano that was transported from Japan, a replica of an instrument destroyed in the bombing of Hiroshima.

* A bronze memorial at the “ground zero” fire station was dedicated to “those who fell and those who carry on.”

* More than 300 firefighters died on Sept. 11, 2001, when two of the four U.S. commercial jets hijacked by terrorists that day crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers. The other planes crashed into the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania, the latter believed to be headed for the White House. Hundreds of innocent people died in the attacks.

* At Columbia University, the students learned that many Nobel Peace Prize laureates were Columbia graduates, including President Obama and former vice president Gore.

* As they chatted on an outdoor patio with the Columbia grad students who hosted their visit, the students played a game. Asked to come up with one word for peace, some words and phrases they cited included education, accepting diversity, silence/quietness, human rights, equality, no war, and happiness.

The graduate students were impressed, Sawyer said. “They told us their stories.” One came from Iran. They told their visitors that only about 10 percent of applicants are accepted to Columbia, she said. But in their opinion, the project these Groton-Dunstable students were involved in and which some of them will have dedicated seven or eight years to by the time they graduate high school, would be their ticket to acceptance. “They said they’d get in” on that basis, Sawyer said.

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.