Ohio Educators Heading to Kent State Peace Conference in Rwanda
The Stow-Munroe Falls City School District in Northeast Ohio is sending a group of educators to attend Peace Education in an Era of Crisis, a conference in Kigali, Rwanda, being sponsored by Kent State University’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education.
Jeffrey Hartmann, Ph.D., principal of Stow-Munroe Falls High School, said he was interested in attending the conference to learn skills to deal with his school district’s changing landscape.
“Stow is a community that is increasing in its diversity, economically and ethnically, and we have students and staff and community members who struggle with how to handle that,” Hartmann said. “So, who better to learn from than people who have experienced a horrible discriminatory history and who are determined to never have it happen again?”
In 1994, members of the Hutu majority government in Rwanda killed nearly 1 million members of the Tutsi tribe over a four-month period in one of the worst genocides in world history. In the years since, a reformed government has vowed to never allow such atrocities to happen again and has worked to instill peace studies in their school curriculums, beginning in kindergarten.
Hartmann will be attending the conference along with Associate Principal Amanda Murray, Assistant Principal Evelyn Haught, BSE ’07, and Kristy Prough, BA ’99, MED ’02, EDS ’04, assistant superintendent and director of special services.
“Rwanda has engaged in some pretty significant systemic changes to their K-12 educational system, structurally and functionally with curriculum, lessons and areas of emphasis. I want to learn what they did,” Hartmann said. “We know why they did it, but we want to know how they are doing it and how they continue to sustain that conversation in their country because having a cohort go through this once isn’t enough for something like this. You need to make it a sustainable conversation.”
Prough said there are lessons to be learned from Rwanda’s recovery and how they can be applied to all situations.
“As a female, I am very interested in the session on girls,” she said. “This is a huge opportunity for us to really get on that global stage.”
Hartmann said the district has worked over the past few years to look at how different populations of students are experiencing opportunities for success, particularly female students, to ensure they are not marginalized.
Murray said life in the Stow school district is ever-changing, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lessons of Rwanda can be applied to their school district.
“We have to change and evolve as educators, and look at how do we sustain that,” she said.
What the group learns will be presented at upcoming teacher in-service meetings later in the summer, Prough said. Then, the schools will work with small groups of teachers to determine how best to introduce the lessons to students, Hartmann added.
The University of Rwanda and the Aegis Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing crimes against humanity, are co-sponsoring the peace conference.
The conference is a component of Kent State’s expanding relationship with the central African nation of Rwanda and its national university. In May 2022, Kent State’s Board of Trustees approved establishing a not-for-profit community benefit company housed at the University of Rwanda to serve as a base of operations for Kent State to engage in Africa’s expanding higher education market.
The global conference on peace education, which is expected to be attended by delegates from 14 countries and nine U.S. states, was born out of work Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Read Center conducted with the University of Rwanda’s Centre for Conflict Management.
Amanda Johnson, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s Read Center in the College of Education, Health and Human Services, said the center has a long-standing relationship with the Stow school district and was pleased to have the local educators attend the peace conference.
“Over the last decade, the Read Center has engaged with Stow-Munroe Falls and other K-12 schools in the area on several international education initiatives,” she said. "We are proud of our long-standing relationship with them and pleased to see their commitment to learning about the skills and strategies of peace education to benefit their students and community.”
Johnson said she hopes that Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools also will be able to connect with a sister school in Rwanda.
Hartmann said that finding a sister school is one of his goals, with the hope of hosting exchange students from that school at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.
Hartmann said the educators used federal money earmarked for professional development and local funds for improving student experiences to pay for the trip, and the district's superintendent and board of education have been supportive.
“By drawing together our community and international stakeholders, like Stow-Munroe and the University of Rwanda, the Read Center continues to live its mission of acting as a catalyst for international and intercultural collaboration and partnership,” Johnson said.