Keeping the Peace at School

by Ann Svensen

Kids are bullying each other, assaulting teachers, and bringing guns to school. What are schools doing to stop youth violence? A growing number are turning to conflict-resolution programs.

Violence prevention comes in a variety of shapes and sizes: It can be peer mediation, life-skills training, or anger management. But at its core, each program attempts to teach children one thing -- how to resolve their conflicts peacefully.

One success story
The staff at Kenwood Heights Elementary School in urban Springfield, OH, has found a way to keep the peace. Its top-notch Kenwood Peace Program is a model for other schools. Principal Marni Gochenour began the program out of desperation: "Many of our children come from violent neighborhoods. We had a lot of assaults on teachers and other children. We literally had first-graders being led out of school in handcuffs. We were not able to teach."

Today, a peace flag flies over Kenwood Heights. In nearly every nook and cranny are reminders of the program's mission: Peace banners hang in the hallways; a scoreboard in the cafeteria records each peaceful day; and students, teachers, custodians, and parents all work together to maintain the school's award-winning gardens. Gochenour starts each day by announcing over the PA a hypothetical problem for students and teachers to solve. And classrooms are equipped with "peace tables" where students go to resolve their disagreements.

A unique approach
They tend to do things a little differently at Kenwood Heights. Most schools that adopt violence-prevention programs target fourth-or fifth-graders because that's often the age when behavior problems become unmanageable. "We chose initially to implement our program in the kindergarten and first grade," says Gochenour. "We wanted to reach kids before the problems began." Kenwood Heights also chose not to use "peer mediation" -- a common violence- prevention method that involves training a few students to diffuse conflicts among their peers. Instead the faculty's goal is to teach all students to be mediators. The results have been impressive: dramatic drops in fights and emergency removals; increasewd attendance, and more students making honor roll.

What it takes to be great
Not all violence-prevention programs are as effective as Kenwood's. According to the Drug Strategies' Safe Schools, Safe Students study, high-quality violence-prevention programs do make a difference. But the majority of programs studied did not make the grade. Only 10 out of the 84 reviewed received an A. The study states that to be successful, a violence-prevention program must:

  • Encourage school attitudes against violence, aggression, and bullying.
  • Provide teacher training.
  • Create a positive school climate.
  • Include families, peers, media, and the community.

To find out more about school violence-prevention programs, order a copy of the study Safe Schools Safe Students ($12.95). To learn more about preventing youth violence, pick up a copy of Before Push Comes to Shove: Building Conflict Resolution Skills with Children by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane Levin.

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