Celebrating 30 years


Bluffton’s Lion and Lamb celebrates 30 years of teaching peace

Bluffton Elementary second grade student Kate Klinger knows how to be a good friend. “You have to be loyal and be nice, and if they get hurt you can help them, and if you have an argument you should just say, ‘Sorry I hurt you.’”

These simple words deal with complex issues of peace, justice, cultural understanding and nonviolence. Kate explained she learned them at Bluffton University’s Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center. A place where she says, “We are all friends, and we all have fun.”

For 30 years, The Lion and Lamb has promoted peace through literature and the fine arts. Founded in 1987 by Dr. Libby Hostetler, emeriti professor of education, the center originally began as a shelf of children’s books in the former board room of Musselman Library. The Lion and Lamb, now featuring more than 3,000 picture books, works of art and curriculum guides for teachers, moved a few years later to its current home along the banks of the Little Riley Creek.  

Hostetler developed the idea during a sabbatical semester and ran the center until her retirement in 1999. “As an educator, I saw kids were making peace through violence,” said Hostetler. “They were doing things that kids do—kicking or calling names— but it seemed as though it was getting worse and worse, and they needed an alternative.”

Today, more than 3,000 people visit the center each year including school groups, Bluffton University education majors, teachers and international visitors.

“We use art, music and picture books to lay a foundation for each session,” said Louise Matthews, current director of the center. “Picture books are valuable tools to teach audiences of every age about kindness and respect, to understand and accept differences, and to nurture compassion. Art provides visual representation for considering different interpretations of these themes and music reinforces the lessons.”

Matthews has developed programs that meet state teaching standards for different grade levels including “Got Culture?” and “Global Connections” as well as an annual workshop in collaboration with Diane Neal, assistant professor of education, and her education students.  

Linda Sycks, a second grade teacher at Bluffton Elementary, has witnessed students cooperating with each other and being more accepting of others following trips to the center.

“We see it in how they behave at recess. A lot of times, we’ll go back and talk about the lessons in our classroom.”

“We reinforce the lessons,” said Ashley Fry, who also teaches second grade at Bluffton Elementary. “If a situation comes up we can say, ‘Remember, we talked about this with Mrs. Matthews in the book she read to us.’”

Those moments are exactly what Hostetler had in mind when developing the center. “It’s important to impact the teachers. Our programs are called teaching peace, but what happens really is modeling peace.”

Lessons are often customized to correspond with relevant situations in a classroom. For example, Bluffton Elementary has benefitted from an influx of students from other countries. Families from Brazil, Germany, Mexico and Croatia have moved to Bluffton because of job transfers through an international manufacturer located in town.

To better recognize the similarities and understand the differences of their new classmates, Matthews invited the fourth grade students from Brazil to present about Brazilian culture during a Lion and Lamb session called, “What it’s like to be me.”

“Mateo told me the kids are now trying to say ‘hola’ to him and ‘amigos’ and other words in Portuguese. It’s made him really happy,” said Fernanda Parmejani Teixeira, who moved to Bluffton with her husband and three children last year. “It’s good for him that the other kids understand him and relate to him better.”

Quantifying the impact the center makes is a challenge. There’s simply no way to track the evidence. 

Maybe the only proof needed is from the students who have gone to the sessions. When asked if the Lion and Lamb made him a better person Chase Kelly, a Bluffton Elementary second grader replied, “Yes. You learn to love others and to try to be your best person.”