"Hi, Yoko.” One after the other, students at Iles Elementary School in Springfield peer into a camera and offer a sometimes-shy, sometimes-boisterous greeting to John Lennon’s widow. I wouldn’t expect kids this young would know who John Lennon was, much less Yoko, but they know. The interesting thing is that Yoko knows who they are as well. This unusual story begins, as it should, with a song
One after the other, students at Iles Elementary School in Springfield peer into a camera and offer a sometimes-shy, sometimes-boisterous greeting to John Lennon’s widow.
I wouldn’t expect kids this young would know who John Lennon was, much less Yoko, but they know.
The interesting thing is that Yoko knows who they are as well. She has their video posted on her Imaginepeace.com Web site. She plans to write a thank you letter to each of the Springfield students. The students sit in Yoko’s Chair in an Iles classroom.
This unusual story begins, as it should, with a song.
Sherry Frachey, a teacher at Iles, wrote and sang “John’s Song,” which is about Lennon, and put it on her MySpace page along with photos of John and Yoko.
It is funny that she would do that, because when Sherry was a teenager, she wasn’t into the Beatles that much. When she was in middle school, the boys were breaking up. It was all animosity, sadness and anger in Beatleworld by then. Sherry was more of a Monkees fan anyway.
Be that as it may, Yoko’s people found “John’s Song,” probably through an Internet search tool, and brought it to Yoko’s attention. She liked the song and sent an electronic message of appreciation to Sherry just over a year ago. They have been corresponding ever since.
“I was skeptical if this was really her,” Sherry says. “But I wrote back, and I heard from her again. She was very attentive, which made me even more suspicious.”
Sherry eventually contacted Yoko’s Web site administrator, who assured her that, yes, the messages she was receiving were really from Yoko.
Yoko was especially interested in learning about Sherry’s work at Iles in the areas of conflict resolution, bullying prevention and teaching her students how to live a more peaceful lifestyle, all of which are meaningful issues to Yoko.
“I just fell in love with her gentleness and tenderness,” Sherry says. “She’s so real.”
Last year, Sherry bought a $10 director’s chair at Big Lots and put it in her classroom. When a Nigerian artist, Ibiyinka Alao, visited the school in November to talk to students about life and art in Africa, he sat in that chair to be interviewed by a student.
“After that, it just hit me,” says Sherry. “That’s going to be Yoko’s Chair. It’s for students who need to chill. They sit in Yoko’s Chair and hold Tucker (a stuffed dog).
“Sometimes if they are having trouble concentrating in class, they will ask to sit in Yoko’s chair, and it really helps them focus.”
But most often the chair is used as a quiet space for students who feel agitated and upset. They sit in the chair, often with Tucker, until they feel peaceful and can think of solutions to their problems.
Sherry and the students made a video about Yoko’s Chair. Yoko’s Web site administrator asked Sherry for a copy, and it ended up on Yoko’s Web site.
Just a few days ago, Yoko wrote to Sherry to tell the story of a bit of performance art she used to do in the 1960s titled “Chair Piece.” In fact, Yoko wrote, she just performed “Chair Piece” again on stage at Stanford University on Jan. 15, only a couple of days before viewing the Iles School video about Yoko’s Chair.
That $10 chair turned out to be priceless.
Yoko’s Chair is in the classroom every day. To the Iles students, Yoko Ono and what she stands for have a quite different aura than they do for us Baby Boomers.
Shorn of all of its Beatle baggage, the message remains simply this: “Peace.”
Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 or email@example.com.