For City Connects coordinators, supporting students and helping them succeed sometimes means giving them the tools they need to share their thoughts or figure out ways to solve their own problems.
That’s part of what Coordinator Josh Richardt is doing at Catholic Central Elementary School in Springfield, Ohio.
To help students share what they’re thinking but might not say, Richardt uses the Helping Hands Locker. It’s a centrally located, locked locker where kids can deposit messages about their experiences. Richardt explains the concept to students, and then he gives them prompts. One can be a piece of paper that says “I wish my teacher knew…” Students can answer in writing or with a drawing. They can also indicate how they want the information handled, meaning shared with a teacher or just with Richardt himself. Kids are sharing information about disagreements on the playground or about mean comments that someone has made about them.
Another locker prompt is to fill out a “friendogram,” writing a compliment about another student – that they are trustworthy, a good friend, or a leader for example – that Richardt then shares with the complimented student. It’s good, old-fashioned social networking without the Internet.
Richardt also uses the Peace Path, a tool for helping students resolve conflicts.
The path is made of lines from a script that’s designed to identify and address conflicts. The lines of the script are sometimes painted on the ground in a playground. But Richardt has the lines printed on paper that he places on the floor, making his peace path completely portable.
“A lot of kids when they get into a conflict don’t know what to do,” Richardt says.
Using the Peace Path provides them with literal step-by-step directions.
Students start by standing next to a line filling in the blanks with this line: “I feel ___________ when you ____________.”
The response: “I now know that you feel ____________ when I ____________. ”The conversation goes on to asking “What can I do to make this right?” And answering “I need ____________.”
So far, students have used the Peace Path to address concerns among friends, including worries about gossip and secrets. Sometimes when students asks to use the Peace Path again, Richardt checks to see if they are working on the agreements they made the first time they used the path. At times he uses the book “Trouble Talk,” by Trudy Ludwig to help children think about the impact of saying mean things, excluding others, and saying things that “isn’t yours to share.”
“Conflict is always an opportunity,” Richardt says, one that students now actively seek since he has introduced the peace path. In addition, students are learning that “There is power in being heard.” And with a nudge from Richardt, they are starting to internalize the Peace Path conversation.
This kind of work helps strengthen the school community. And it’s also an example of prevention: giving students the skills and the opportunities they need to communicate. They learn how to stop small disputes from becoming larger or hurtful problems. They learn that adults are listening. And Richardt hopes that they’ll use these tools for both smaller and more challenging problems.
Instead of being caught in anger or despair, students can — with the help of a resourceful coordinator — learn to use communication and collaboration.