PeaceBuilders: Prevention of Youth
Violence is Community Effort
By Genie Stoker
A Village Life Exclusive
If someone says "schools have changed a lot," what comes to mind? More pocket knives, black eyes and foul language? In one Arizona community's elementary schools, the reverse is actually happening. Tucson schools that use the PeaceBuilders program show a 13% drop in visits to the school nurse for injuries and a 50% drop in referrals to the principal's office for misconduct. Teachers report a 10-30% increase in the time that can be spent learning.
PeaceBuilders is a community-wide program, developed by Tucson child psychologist Dennis Embryn. A grant from the Centers for Disease Control has helped PeaceBuilders expand so that it now reaches more than 200 schools in 20 states. To surround the children with values of a caring lifestyle, the PeaceBuilders program involves the entire community -- homes, churches, businesses, police and news media.
Results are positive. Parents notice their children become more cooperative and concerned for others. Teachers notice that students are fighting less and focusing better on their studies. As one elementary teacher remarked, "I see the kids caring about each other, really caring."
The program targets children between 5 and 10, with the goal of reaching as many children as possible before adolescence. Some children have been skeptical about PeaceBuilders, thinking it's for wimps. But they find it take courage to actively build peace and the results are worthwhile. The 5 to 10 year olds are especially interested in learning new communication skills, new ways of preventing fights and de-escalating anger. As one parent commented, "the children were looking for help. They wanted a better way to get along."
How Does PeaceBuilders Work? It helps both children and adults learn the language of empathy. Dr. Embry, himself a Sunday School teacher, has rooted PeaceBuilders in principles consistent with the Bible and with national research on youth violence. Since violence results when people feel threatened, PeaceBuilding helps children feel less threatened, more supported and valued by their family, friends and community. The program does not single out children with a tendency toward violence, but works with all children in a school, church or family, teaching everyone to care for one another. Here are the five cornerstone principles:
Here are some of the specific techniques:
Youngsters hardened by a threatening environment may be suspicious of praise. But aggressive kids and withdrawn children benefit from anonymous praise notes sent day after day. Since they don't know who's sending the notes, they start suspecting different people. Gradually they become more friendly and open toward everyone.
Oral praise is also a part of PeaceBuilders. In a Peace Circle, each person takes a turn complimenting another person. Families, classes and other groups can use the Peace Circle to support one another, open a serious discussion or regroup after a busy time.
Resolution of a hurt goes beyond saying "I'm sorry." it takes practice at finding ways to right wrongs. Adults can offer several wise suggestions, then let a child choose which one to use. Making amends involves people working together, e.g. an adult must permit a child to clean up a mess or repaint a wall.
A special way to include parents is through a PeaceBuilders Book of Wisdom. Each parent writes on one sheet of paper the values he/she hopes to instill in his/her child. The papers are photocopied and made into booklets, so each child has a collection of all the parents' contributions. As students use the Books of Wisdom in class, they come to value parental advice and see the norms of the community. Likewise, the parents come to value their own wisdom and experience; they feel the importance of imparting values to their own child and to the other children as well.
PeaceBuilders offers excellent materials for training Peace Coaches. Among the suggestions are ways to model positive behavior, the use of choices in motivating children, the use of positive, "green light" signals to guide behavior.
An important element of Peace Coaching is teaching children to think ahead, to decrease the threat of a new situation -- a coach may help a child walk mentally through the first day at church camp. Or she may guide a child in decision-making trough bracketing -- asking questions with equal choice answers, e.g. "Do you want (a few friends) or (a lot of friends)? If you hit Jim is he (more likely) or (less likely) to be your friend?"
Peace Coaches can also help strengthen the skills of a child to delay gratification. Impatience and impulsiveness are linked to violence, so self-discipline is a vital skill. The "When --, then --" technique teaches self-discipline, e.g. "When you finish your math, then we'll go to the park."
Churches are beginning to incorporate PeaceBuilders in church-related programs. Several parochial schools in Illinois, both Catholic and Protestant, have enrolled in PeaceBuilders. A seminary intern, Dee Hershberger, is working with the staff of Catalina United Methodist in Tucson to incorporate PeaceBuilding into Sunday School, after school and family activities.
Throughtout the country, where communities have been touched by PeaceBuilders, improvements have come in the quality of life -- often in less than five months. There is less fear, more co-operation and more caring. Students and teachers once again enjoy school. Parents and children are finding their time together more positive and supportive. And that alone foretells a brighter future.
First aid for anger
What if a child is acutely upset? Peace coaches are trained in techniques for calming people:
Meet the Author of Peacebuilders
PeaceBuilders has been authored by Dr. Dennis Embry, PhD, a specialist in child psychology. He works with Michael Krupnick, a specialist in health care marketing and counseling, and with Kim Lauger a mother and foster mother with a background in pediatric nursing. PeaceBuilders is a part of Heartsprings, Inc. of Tucson an organization specializing in violence prevention and recovery.
PeaceBuilders is funded in part by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control. Schools and churches that use the program help pay for materials and training. Volunteers at each PeaceBuilding site serve as Peace Coaches. There are also opportunities for businesses and public agencies to be involved in this community-wide effort.
For information on PeaceBuilding materials and workshops, call 1-800 368-9356 or 1-520-322-9977. Or write to Heartsprings, Inc., PO Box 12158, Tucson, AZ 85732. Fax 1-520-299-6822. PeaceBuilders also can be found on the web or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PeaceBuilders is a registered trademark.
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