News: Peace Lessons

Teaching kids how not to be violent

Tony Cook

Children and parents alike need training in nonviolent resolution of conflict, according to Jill Yungbluth.

The Center for Peace Education celebrates its 25th anniversary Oct. 2. Executive Director Jill Yungbluth has high hopes for the evening at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

"We're going to raise a little money, make some friends," she says.

The Center for Peace Education (CPE) has made many friends over the course of 25 years. The agency was recently involved in its first international program. In July 2003 and again in January and July this year, CPE trained 60 educators in Seoul, South Korea, in peer mediation.

"It's turned into a relationship," Yungbluth says. "It was a neat experience for the trainers to learn how conflict is resolved in another culture."

While the program in South Korea has been a success, Yungbluth says CPE's focus is on nurturing a more peaceful, unified Cincinnati. A small organization based in the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church, CPE hires independent contractors to go into schools to train teachers and students.

AmeriCorps volunteers assigned to CPE are working on a three-year program to develop after-school programs in four inner-city schools, as well as participating in other CPE programs. The volunteers receive a small stipend so that they can live within the same means as those they are assisting.

Most of CPE's efforts are in the Cincinnati Public Schools, but its services are available outside the district as well.

"We'll work with any school that calls with a need." Yungbluth says.

CPE receives funding from the city of Cincinnati as well as grants from several foundations and private donations.

The center's programs include the Peace Camp during summer, a free day camp for children ages 6 to 12 at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine, the Walnut Hills Christian Church and the McKie Recreation Center in Northside.

The center's foremost program is Students' Creative Response to Conflict. This program focuses on four pillars of understanding among students: affirmation, communication, bias awareness and creative conflict management and cooperation. These skills are the crux of the CPE message.

"That program is our core curriculum program," says Tanya Batté, program and training manager at CPE. "(Students) learn how to respect others and communicate effectively. We teach them how to work together. They're being dealt with in ways that respect them and encourage them."

Students participate in role-playing and exercises such as Wrinkle Boy, which teaches students the effects of name-calling on a drawn paper boy who is slowly crumpled with each insult. He unfolds when comforted, but shows the scars of their taunts.

Trainers give students the means of resolving conflict in a new way, according to Yungbluth.

"We give them a tool belt of skills," she says.

To Batté, these programs imbue students with the potential for thinking critically.

"We teach them that they have choices," she says. "Violence permeates our society in so many ways; it's a natural way to communicate."

CPE seeks to change this instinctual reaction, allowing students at an early age to grow comfortable with an alternate means of conflict resolution.

"Conflict is everywhere," Batté says. "Children grow up with it. If we don't get them at an early age, we lose them."

CPE trainers seek to involve the entire staff of a school.

"Not only teachers, but office personnel, cooks, janitors, administration — we want them to take ownership of the program," Batté says.

That ownership is soon to be extended to parents by means of neighborhood-based programs about cooperative discipline. Batté cites the need for children to receive the same message from both parents and teachers.

"We want to bridge the gap between school and home," she says. "There is no parent alive that doesn't want their children to do better. We want to bring more skills to teachers and parents."

"We're giving them a common language, between teachers, parents and students," Yungbluth says.

Batté and Yungbluth stress that commitment to the program by the individuals involved is the only means to success.

"We don't labor under any false notion of going in and doing magic," Batté says. "The teachers do the magic. When we leave, they continue it."

"It's continuous learning." Yungbluth says. "It's use it or lose it."

The principles espoused CPE might be universal, but they require dedication and willingness from all parties to engage in a new mode of thought, Batté says.

"The operative word is 'partnership,' " she says. "There's no simple answer, but working together in partnership we can make a difference. We live in a time when bombs are the way people get attention. We do a pretty good job at war; we need to study peace now." ©

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