Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Teaching kids how to manage conflict

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tears still well up in Annette Roberts' eyes when she thinks of the day that children showed her the violent reality of their lives.

(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Miss Roberts, an AmeriCorps volunteer, works for the Center for Peace Education. This week, the center is introducing peaceful alternatives to conflict to 50 children from Greater Cincinnati at a weeklong Peace Camp.

        She had been on the job a month and was leading an after-school Peace Team of 25 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Schwab School in Northside.

        Most of the students were from Winton Terrace, one of Cincinnati's public housing complexes. Miss Roberts started the discussion with simple prompts, such as, “Stand up if you've ever had a bad day.” The students prodded Miss Roberts to go further into the issues they face every day.

        “Stand up if you have seen someone shot or stabbed,” Miss Roberts hesitantly asked the sud denly-hushed class.

        All 25 students stood up. They told her these shootings and stabbings weren't only on television; they had seen them firsthand. At a student's quiet urging, Miss Roberts probed further.

        “Stand up if you yourself have been shot or stabbed.”

        Five youngsters stood up.

        One pulled up the back of his shirt and showed her stab wounds in his back, then he talked about how his brother had been shot. After his story, the other students seemed to understand his hyperactive, defensive behavior. Miss Roberts used the moment as an opportunity to start a discussion on conflicts and how to solve them.

    The Center for Peace Education is a 20-year-old program that helps children with conflict management. It reaches 1,500 students a year ages 5 to 17 in Greater Cincinnati.
    The program is helped by almost 40 volunteers and funded by six local and state organizations.
    The program's major fund-raiser is a series of dinners being held next week in the Cincinnati area.
    Tickets are $50 a person, and the center hopes to raise as much as $7,000. For information, call the Center for Peace Education at 221-4863.
        “These kids want you to know. They want to be heard. They want to be strong enough to get out of these situations,” Miss Roberts said.

        The point of the program is to help students work out problems peacefully while simultaneously boosting their self-esteem.

        The goals of the Peace Center are far-reaching, especially for a nonprofit organization with only one full-time employee of its own and a $170,000 budget. Executive Director Jennifer Smith said she wants to see “a comprehensive conflict-management program in every school in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.” Its core program is Students' Creative Response to Conflict. Volunteers train teachers and students in conflict management, then let the schools take it from there.

        “Every nonprofit wants to work itself out of a job,” Ms. Smith said.

        At the beginning of a Peace Team training in October, Miss Roberts gave students a test. She was most surprised at the answers to the question, “How do you feel about yourself?” Most of the students scored themselves at 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. But on a retest at the end of the program, nearly all of the students marked a 4 or 5 in answer to the question.

        “With all of my children, I've seen an amazing growth and love of themselves develop,” Miss Roberts said.

        The after-school Peace Team, led by Miss Roberts, is just one way the center reaches out. Students — some with positive leadership skills, some with negative leadership skills — are nominated by teachers for the program. If they join, they stay after school three days a week to learn conflict management through hands-on activities.

        Another program is Peace Pals, in which volunteers come to schools in Over-the-Rhine for an hour a week to teach these skills.

        This week, the center is holding Peace Camp at Walnut Hills Christian Church. The weeklong program, also offered in June, brings a diverse group of students from around the area to work on conflict management.

        Latasha Woods, 11, and a student at Schwab School, was a member of Peace Team last year and is attending this week's Peace Camp. Latasha said she always used to be on punishment from her parents — for punching her brothers, watching TV when she was not supposed to or not cleaning her room.

        “I never did what I was supposed to do until I started Peace Team,” Latasha said. “I say "shut up' less, I respect people more, I don't tell people if I think they got bad ideas.

        “It works with your parents, too. I got a smart mouth, I know, but it works better when I use "I' statements. Plus, I can get more money out of my momma that way.”

        Ben Vanderhorst, who turns 9 on Friday, is also in Peace Camp this week. One thing he has learned is to take a deep breath when he gets angry, he said.

        “Me and my sister fight a lot, and mom sent us here so we can learn not to fight,” Ben said.

        Ben's mother, Jennifer Davis, said she loves the diversity of Peace Camp and the alternative thought processes it encourages.

        “Kids today see so much anger in the media and in video games, this gives them a way to fight back against that anger,” she said.

        Latasha's friend, ToQuisha Hutchinson of Winton Terrace, used her newly acquired peacemaking skills a couple of weeks ago. She was playing Two-Square with a neighbor. The other girl had just moved from New Jersey, and apparently Two-Square rules are different there. So when the girl accused ToQuisha of cheating, she didn't get upset like she said she would have before Peace Team. Instead, she explained that rules are different in other parts of the country. Each girl taught the other the rules they knew.

        “Before Peace Team, I would have said, "It's not New Jersey, it's Ohio, and you gotta play it our way,” she said. “But now I learned a new way to play Two-Square. I can accept differences from what they do and what I do, and that's how people get along.”



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