Reprinted courtesy of the Recorder, Greenfield MA
TURNERS FALLS — This year’s Peacemakers all distinguished themselves by helping out their fellow students, whether it was by sitting with others who were all by themselves at the lunch table, helping fellow students resolve conflicts or raising money and sending books to children in Uganda.
On Thursday evening, about 60 people gathered to honor the 2011 Peacemakers at a reception at the Franklin County Technical School. It’s the 11th year the Interfaith Council of Franklin County and Traprock Peace Center have recognized local students for their efforts to support equal rights and support peace and justice. “You are great lights for a better future,” State Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, told the 10 honorees. “You have very large hearts and you’re willing to work from them. You’re willing to do what isn’t always easy and isn’t always encouraged.
“Mother Teresa said success is doing small things with a great heart.’ So continue to do that and shine on.”
This year’s winners are junior Leah Truesdell of Orange from Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, senior Alex Yelle of Northfield and junior Joyce Johnson of Leyden from Pioneer Valley Regional School, freshman Alex Osowski of Erving and junior Christopher Torres of Montague from Turners Falls High School, senior Autumn Tidlund of Greenfield High School and seniors Jenna Gagnon of Whately, Beth Gorman of Sunderland, Renee Malanson of Deerfield, and Melissa Manheim of Sunderland, all of Frontier Regional School.
Leah Truesdell was nominated by Robin Dion, health teacher at Mahar.
“As a young adult, Leah is well beyond her years in wisdom, leadership and inspiration,” said Dion.
“Leah is nonjudgmental and regardless of teasing’ from her peers, she never veers from her true self. She is a student to be recognized for her hard work and commitment to her school and she inspires other young adults to act with respect and acceptance regardless of age, race or religion.
“She has a unique ability to recognize difficult situations and quickly solve problems.” This comes from her Training Active Bystanders, a program where students study various issues concerning equal rights and learn the importance of peace and justice, Dion said. Truesdell is working with staff on a bullying initiative.
Alex Yelle was nominated by Sandy Kinsman, teacher and counselor at Pioneer.
He is a member of peer mediators, vice-president of the Students Against Destructive Decisions, a founder of the Gay/Straight Alliance and represents Pioneer at the Western Massachusetts Student Advisory Council.
“Alex has a gift for listening and has been a constant centering-stone’ for so many different students,” said Kinsman. “He is a tutor and a mentor, and in spite of working two jobs, taking care of responsibilities at home and again the many demands at school, maintaining honor roll status, he never hesitates to stop what he’s doing and help someone.”
He’s also well versed in lighting and stage organization and faculty and administration go to him when they need help with a presentation in the auditorium, she said.
Joyce Johnson was also nominated by Kinsman.
“Joyce is respected by and a friend to all at Pioneer and the community and has been a class leader throughout her years here,” Kinsman said. “She has always stood true to her beliefs and refused to participate in the drama of early high school years. She is a strong advocate for fairness and equal rights.”
Johnson has been on the school’s cross country, winter spring track programs, a member of the SADD group, a member of the peer mediators, and active in her junior class. She leads a non-denominational Christian discussion group each morning and is a National Honor Society member. She has been a mentor and a tutor. “Joyce is one of those students that will touch your life and you will remember forever,” said Kinsman.
Alex Osowski was nominated by Heather Batchelor, a teacher at Turners High School.
“Alex is confident in who he is, is kind to everyone he meets, does not let peer pressure guide his interactions, and never diminishes others’ value. Alex is a popular student athlete in our school who other students respect, and I believe his leadership has helped to further the full integration of all students into our school community.”
In class, Osowski works to bring together different personalities and his humor and gentle ways often help diffuse tension, she said. When the class worked with “the Life Skills program, he worked with students who have significant developmental disabilities where his humor and gentle ways would often diffuse tension when a student would become upset.”
Christopher Torres was nominated by Hipolito Baez, mediation coordinator at Turners Falls High School.
“Christopher is a remarkable young man who has been very involved in community activities for equal rights, peace and justice that contribute toward a caring and compassionate learning environment,” said Baez.
Torres is involved with the RISE UP program, the Main Street Academics and in peer mediation, where he serves as a leader, Baez said.
“He embraces a challenge, last year requesting a more advanced curriculum even when doing so put him at risk for getting lower grades.
“Christopher makes a significant contribution toward creating a safe, caring and positive environment for the entire school.”
Autumn Tidlund was nominated by Angela Mass, a teacher at Greenfield High School.
As president of the student council, Tidlund has helped get out the word about Invisible Children, a charity that helps children in Uganda, Mass said. She’s also helped this cause primarily by collecting books that go to Uganda or are sold to raise money for the charity. Greenfield High School has sent over 3,000 used books to the Schools for Schools program for Invisible Children.
As a result of Autumn’s hard work and dedication, Greenfield was ranked eighth out of 102 schools that participated, many of these schools were colleges and universities, said Mass. “Autumn has helped to give a voice to those who cannot be heard in a nation that most of the world has forgotten.”
Jenna Gagnon, Beth Gorman, Renee Malanson and Melissa Manheim were nominated by Cynthia Mandile, a guidance counselor at Frontier. Gagnon and Malanson were also nominated by Principal Martha Barrett.
“These four highly deserving individuals define the meaning of Peacemaker,” said Mandile. They are leaders of the school’s Frontier Friends Team, a group of middle and high school students who work to make all students feel included and actively encourage the celebration of diversity, she said.
The four young women also organized and ran this year’s Annual Youth Conference, hosted at Frontier, which drew youth from Franklin and Hampshire counties.
“Each of these students has distinguished herself as a positive role model,” Mandile said. “They have used conflict resolution skills to resolve disputes and listen so others felt heard and they have earned the trust of their teachers and peers.”
Gorman and Malanson were unable to attend Thursday’s ceremony as they were part of the vocal concert at Frontier.