The Peace Zone at Emerson Elementary School in Phoenix
The Peace Zone at Emerson Elementary School in Phoenix



A Culture of Peace at Emerson Elementary School

During school year 2022-2023, the Culture of Peace project was an expansion of the relationship between the Cultural Arts Coalition and Emerson Elementary School as an outgrowth of conversations with the principal, teachers, and staff at the school. It is rooted in an initiative that recognizes Emerson as a "No Place for Hate" site.

In the image to the left, from the day the ceramic mural was freshly installed, part of the "Peace Zone" is visible. A peace path was installed on the sidewalk by the art teacher Olivia Yuen and social worker Julie Robbins with students in 2021 under the leadership of the principal Nicholas Lodato. The peace path is used for conflict resolution and was redesigned and funded by G Road during spring 2023. The installation of a peace pole was initiated by Dr. Dianne Anderson-Nickel in 2021, the former music educator at Emerson, and installed with funding from AZ Teen Court Association. 

Return to the "Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School Collaborations" Page

The Cultural Arts Coalition engaged with Emerson Elementary and A Culture of Peace in three ways:

  • An artist residency with Oliverio Balcells for the creation of "peace tiles" with students. The tiles were installed as a public art work in the Peace Zone. Oliverio worked with art teacher Britahn Newbill.
  • An experience Caribbean steel pan drums with Keith Johnson in collaboration with music teacher Emily Flathers. 
  • Finally, collected words and images for peace and mindfulness were gathered from facilitated classroom sessions to create the book "A Culture of Peace," which was received by every child in the school. This initiative was a collaboration between social worker Julie Robbins and CAC director Dr. Melanie Ohm.

Symbols of Peace | A Ceramic Mural

Symbols of Peace by Emerson Elementary School Students

The ceramic mural above was completed after the book went to the printer, so we weren't able to include an image of it. Thank you to M&R Remodeling for the beautiful artistry in turning the tiles into a collective work of art to be enjoyed for years to come.

To help students envision the wonderful symbols they would create for the wall, Oliverio Balcells produced a video to direct students in thinking about peace, symbolism, and drawing. You, too, can use this video to think about what peace means to you and draw a symbol to represent that peace.

Britahn Newbill helps a student solve a creative problem
Britahn Newbill's Classroom
Oliverio Balcells work with students

Caribbean Steel Pan Drumming

Keith Johnson and Emily Flathers are great collaborators. They met to plan, then Emily prepared the classes with knowledge of the culture, instruments, and music, and the students had 8 sessions with Keith in the classroom. They decided on "Ode to Joy" by Beethoven and "Hall of the Mountain King" by Grieg, oddly popular with young steel pan learners! Emily also prepared videos for students to practice at home. Keith brought in his steel pans every session to give the students an experience of playing high quality instruments.

Emily Flathers and Keith Johnson 2023
Keith at Emerson 2023

Students Talk About Their Experience

  • What I like most is playing the Steel Pan because it is something I have not done. And what I like is the Bass because it will not stop. – Malik
  • I like the sound and how when I played it sounded so relaxing…what I will remember is the first time when I played it.  – Ian
  • I used to not know ANYTHING about steel pans. But now that I learned about the steel pans, I know how to play songs! – Bryzeda
  • I liked playing the steel pan and I liked learning about it and I liked to see how it was made. – Gustavo
  • I liked being able to play the Steel Drum. I also liked meeting Mr. Johnson. I will probably remember how to play the drums. I think if we had more time to learn it would be more fun! - Aneiyah

A Culture of Peace Schoolwide Project

Julie Robbins, the social worker, took Cultural Arts Coalition art-making activities and writing prompts into every classroom in the school to give students reflective and creative time for considering peace and mindfulness. The book, designed and created by Dr. Melanie Ohm, contains a few images from every class along with peace practices from every student. Thank you to Alphagraphics on Camelback for the beautiful printing. The book that went home with students had their classroom photos included. These have been removed from the copy available here. Learn from the young and find joy in their ideas about how peace is acquired.

Access the book "A Culture of Peace"

A Culture of Peace Book Cover Emerson Elementary School Mural of Sun as Peace Sign over Phoenix Mountains and plants with people gardening

The mural featured on the book cover is by an unknown artist. Any information would be appreciated.

A heartfelt thank you to our funders for helping us to realize these projects in full.

Phoenix Office of Arts & Culture LogoArizona Commission on the Arts LogoNational Endowment for the Arts Logo  


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