Teitel says RISE was inspired by work he did as a member of the Rotary Club of Deerfield Valley. “RISE of Peace was an idea I originally had in 2012,” says Teitel. “The concept was to try to provide an adjunct or a complementary curriculum for high schools that would serve to educate young people about conflict resolution.”
Teitel says that at first, a point of inspiration behind RISE was what Teitel saw as a global trend of radicalization of young people by terrorist groups. “But while we initially saw avoiding radicalization as a goal, we soon recognized that in today’s high schools, conflict occurs on a far broader scale, ranging from shootings to bullying,” says Teitel.
RISE comprises a team of educators who, from the program’s conception, were willing to go into schools to create a custom curriculum and work with students. They were able to work with a few schools — one in Wilmington, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Bolivia — to create curriculums. However, Teitel says establishing a wide reach proved difficult.
“We began to realize that when a 501(c)(3) such as ours offers to go into a school, there are a number of logistical issues,” says Teitel. “There were political issues, there were questions about what our agenda might be. On balance, everyone thought the idea was great in theory, but the concern was how is this going to be implemented? Overall, it was logistically more difficult than we realized it would be.”
Teitel says that after recently receiving a donation from Goldman Sachs of £10,000, the group was empowered to look at their work in ways they yet hadn’t. “It was a turning point,” says Teitel. “We decided that what we really needed to do was to incentivize schools to teach their own students at their own pace,” says Teitel. Through that, the RISE of Peace 2018 National Peace Education Award was born.
Teitel, along with the RISE board of advisors, which is made up of six professors who collectively hail from New Hampshire, Vermont, and California, sent invitations to 200 schools across the continental United States to participate in the essay writing initiative. Invited schools will work with their own students to produce essays.
An academic advisor at the school will pick the best essay, which will be submitted to the competition. From those essays, the RISE board of advisors will pick state finalists and an overall national finalist, who will be awarded $5,000. The national finalist’s educational advisor will receive $1,000.
Teitel says Goldman Sachs specified that the money should be used to reach “underserved schools,” but that when the RISE advisors went to determine what an underserved school was, the definition took different shapes in different regions. The group first focused their efforts on finding schools where violence had reportedly been an issue, and then broadened their search to include schools where bullying may be a problem.
A press release about the award says, “High schools receiving invitations ranged from Columbine to Marshall County, KY. Other schools on the invitation list with lower profiles may still benefit from a curriculum with a peace building component.”
Teitel is an attorney who specializes in environmental law. Currently, he acts as counsel to Zhong Lun, a law firm based in China that has offices in New York, though he works remotely a lot of the time.
Teitel once worked full time in Manhattan, but he moved to Vermont a few years after September 11, 2001. He and his wife were both working in the World Financial Center, adjacent to the World Trade Center, when the attacks of 9/11 occurred. In the weeks that followed, they watched from their home in New Jersey, which overlooked the Manhattan skyline, as smoke billowed out of Ground Zero.
“Our offices eventually reopened, but it was never the same after that,” says Teitel. “After a few years, we decided it was time to go.” They already had a second home in West Dover, so they decided to make it their full-time home.
Teitel has worked with clients in many different locales in his 40-year career, and he says that while RISE has taken him into what he sees as a completely different territory than his professional work, his experience with different cultures over the years does inform his perspective on the work he’s doing with RISE.
“I think having some awareness of how people in other countries think and think differently certainly has made me more sensitive from a political perspective,” says Teitel. “This whole peace area is one that invites a broad spectrum of thinking.”
Teitel says the RISE of Peace 2018 National Peace Education Award will be presented in a ceremony in the fall at a yet to be determined location, possibly in either the school of the national finalist or in the capital of the national finalist’s home state.
Those who wish to learn more about RISE of Peace and its mission may visit riseofpeace.org.