By Genevieve Reilly
FAIRFIELD -- Tie-dyed t-shirts ruled the day at North Stratfield
School on Friday, but the staff wasn't preparing for a concert by
Phish concert or the Grateful Dead. They were honoring retiring
kindergarten teacher Marilyn Giles, who has spent most of her
teaching career promoting peace to her students.
Teachers sporting the shirts, marking Giles' retirement also had
peace-sign medallions around their necks.
Giles, who has taught at North Stratfield for 25 years, was taken by
surprise when the school's annual Spirit Day morphed into Marilyn
Giles Day. "As principal, there are some things I can't do, like
close school," Principal Deb Jackson said, but changing Spirit Day to
Mrs. Giles Day was something she could do -- and did -- as she
directed Giles to a chair that sat front and center before a student assembly.
Giles, joined by many co-workers and parents, was moved to tears by
the celebration, which included several songs from the students as
well as a reworked version of ABBA's, "There You Go Again" rendered
by the teachers.
At one point, all of Giles' current kindergartners as well as former
students still at the elementary school left the assembly, went into
the hallway and filed back into the gym carrying an origami crane and
a note with messages of their own choosing. They handed their gifts
to Giles as she hugged each and every one of them.
But there were still more surprises. In recognition of Giles'
continued efforts teaching her students to become peacemakers, the
school set up a peace pole at the entrance. The 8-foot-tall
handcrafted, wooden pole was inscribed with the message, "May Peace
Prevail on Earth," in four languages -- English, Gaelic (representing
Giles' heritage), Japanese (since the tradition of peace poles
started there after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima), and
Swahili (representing the background of President Obama).
Jean Gallati, the parent of a North Stratfield student, in describing
the peace pole to the gathering, said it would let others know that
North Stratfield is a special place dedicated to peace on earth.
"Peace is not only taught here," Gallati said, "it's spoken here."
In Giles' class, she said, youngsters learn math by counting the
different symbols for peace on the walls, and you learn how to say
"peace" in many languages. "Mrs. Giles' plan works. You teach the
children and the children teach the parents," she said.
There was still one gift left after the peace pole. Teachers took
turns reading lines from the Mem Fox book, "Whoever You Are," a
favorite of Giles. When done, they presented her with a copy,
autographed by the author.
At the end, as she accepted the best wishes from students and
parents, Giles reflected on her years teaching. She hadn't planned on
teaching about peace, she said, as a 21-year-old starting out in the
field. "I really began to realize the importance of it as I grew up,"
Giles said. The child of a Vietnam War hero, Giles said, "I felt
called to share it in my teaching."
And she doesn't believe her students have just been parroting back
her words. "I really believe that they have totally internalized it,"