The fifth annual Peace Games Festival brought more than 1,300 Boston-area schoolchildren to the Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis Facility yesterday.
The children spent the day playing cooperative games, attending workshops, creating an enormous mural depicting a safe city and exchanging stories about their community service activities.
The activities culminated 18 weeks of teaching and a year's worth of planning by the program's volunteers.
Throughout the year, the elementary and middle school students were encouraged to corresponded with one another. Yesterday, the students finally met their pen-pals.
Shari A. Davis, a third grader from the Blessed Sacrament School, said that meeting her pen-pal was the highlight of the day.
"I thought they were going to be a lot different from the children in our school, but they weren't," she said.
The hardest part about teaching young children about peace is defining the terms--"peace" and "conflict resolution"--said Sarah C. Melvoin
"They don't get it unless you push them, but when you do, they learn empathy," she said.
This year's event was more than 50 percent larger than last year's, involving an additional 500 students and more than 230 college volunteers.
According to Debbie C. Glazer, assistant director of the program, Peace Games increased the number of students and volunteers while focusing on fewer schools this year.
The program now targets whole communities by working with students in grades one through eight in only nine public and parochial schools.
Last summer, a group of 25 Peace Games coordinators worked on the redesign to create a more "holistic, systemic model," said volunteer Barrie L. Wheeler.
The teaching is done using games, art and small group discussions about peace and justice.
"It's challenging because it's such an alternative curriculum," said Leslie K. Galiano, a junior from Boston College who volunteers at the Sarah Greenwood School. "We're not teaching them the three R's. We're teaching them about peace, which is hard to define."
Glazer said the program forged important relationships between the children and college students.
"The younger students benefit tremendously," she said, adding that volunteers benefit from the "service-learning component.