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Guest Column: a bold stand for peace at Citrus Heights schools

Maria Maldonado stands alongside a new peace pole at Mesa Verde High School. // Image courtesy, Maria Maldonado

By Maria Maldonado
As one of only two girls named Maria from kindergarten through high school, there was little diversity in Citrus Heights.

I recently returned to the place where my school life began. On my first day of kindergarten at Citrus Heights Elementary in 1966, as I sat on the bus, I was punched by a boy shouting, “You’re brown!”

I went home crying to my mom not understanding why he thought I different from all the other kids. It was my first instance of racism.

At Sylvan Middle School, I was bullied for having buck teeth. By the time I got to Mesa Verde High School, I had become outgoing with friends from all the different cliques, I was the school mascot and head varsity cheerleader.

In 1983, I was the first Ms. Citrus Heights of color, not realizing the significance at the time.

As I returned to my schools, I felt a lump in my throat and held back tears of joy as our school alumni united our community by putting an end to a 45-year rivalry with San Juan High School. Six of my eight brothers and sisters attended San Juan since 1963.

We model behavior to the next generation, and since words have meaning, we are no longer calling ourselves rivals. We now choose to be called “fierce sports competitors” in the city.

It was a proud moment to stand and proclaim “Unity in Our Community” by dedicating a peace pole to Sylvan Middle School and Mesa Verde High School on Oct. 18 of this year, in partnership with Rotary of Citrus Heights, Mesa Verde 40th Reunion Classes 1977-1980, San Juan High 40th Reunion Class of 1979, and Peace Poles For Schools.

There will be five peace poles dedicated to Citrus Heights schools. Our children — from elementary, middle and both high schools — will see the tangible symbol of peace and the power of words every day with the universal message of peace, “May Peace Prevail On Earth,” translated into languages chosen by each school.

Sylvan Middle School is the first school in San Juan Unified School District to receive a four-language peace pole with English, Spanish, Russian, and the phrase “May Peace Be In Our Schools.”

The dedication ceremony was for three Award Assemblies for grades 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. The kids held up world flags as I proclaimed peace, and they put their hands over their hearts as we beat as one with the drum beat and a declaration of peace in the four directions.

I encouraged the students to embrace their uniqueness. It was heartwarming to see the diversity of Citrus Heights after all these years.

Maria Maldonado, left, stands next to a new peace pole with several former Citrus Heights Elementary School teachers outside Sylvan Middle School. // Image courtesy, Maria Maldonado

Four teachers who taught at Citrus Heights Elementary School over 45 years ago attended the Peace Pole Dedication on the sacred grounds of Citrus Heights Elementary, the foundation on which Sylvan was built upon in 2014. They are Mrs. Pat Schroeder, Mrs. Shelly (McGee) Fager, Mrs. Laurie Wagner, and Mrs. Cathy Dax. My brother, George, flew in from Southern California early in the morning for the teacher reunion and to see his third grade teacher, Mrs. Schroeder, at the Sylvan dedication.

Mesa Verde is the first high school in San Juan Unified School District to receive a peace pole, dedicated at their Homecoming Rally on Oct. 18, 2019. “May Peace Prevail on Earth” translated into Spanish, Russian, Ukranian, Punjabi, and the phrases “May Peace Be in Our Hearts,” “May Peace Be In Our Homes,” and “May Peace Be In Our Schools.”

The school was celebrating Cultural Day at the homecoming rally in coordination with our dedication. Alumni from Citrus Heights Elementary, Sylvan Middle, and Mesa Verde High came from near and far out of state to be present for the peace pole dedication.

The Rotary of Citrus Heights Foundation provided a grant for Peace Poles at Sylvan Middle School, Mesa Verde High, and San Juan High School.  I was organizing the Mesa Verde 40th Reunion Classes 1977-1980 and reached out to the Rotary and then to my friend since first grade, Mary Mortenson, who was organizing the San Juan 40th Reunion Class of 1979.

We called for a truce to our 45-year rivalry by donating a peace pole to elementary schools. The rivalry began in 1974 when Mesa Verde had to share the stadium at San Juan. A long-awaited Mesa Verde High stadium will soon be built.

Mesa Verde 40th Reunion Classes 1977-1980 pays it forward and is donating a four-language peace pole to Carriage Elementary School. San Juan 40th Reunion Class of 1979, is donating a four-language peace pole to Skycrest Elementary School, with dates yet to be determined.

 Our goal is to leave a lasting legacy of peace that spreads for generations.

Maria Maldonado is Mesa Verde High School alumni and a certified Peace Ambassador/Speaker, partnering with Peace Poles For Schools. She can be contacted at (916) 220-9505.

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