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Blessed are these peacemakers

Their assignment: Learn how to work for peace.

Thanks to the Marquette University Peace Works Program, students at St. Pius V and St. Procopius Catholic schools and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago use active listening, conversation and other skills to resolve differences.

Marquette employees Molly Dull, director of the Peace Works Program for the three schools, and instructor Henry Cervantes work with school administrators and teachers developing the curriculum that gives students time every week to think and talk about violence its causes, ripple effects, costs and learn how a little diplomacy produces better results. Through conversations and games, students begin to master methods for nonviolent conflict resolution.

“We’ve covered everything from empathy to practical ways to address conflict to the history of violence in our world,” says Dull.

“I grew up in Pilsen, in the Little Village community,” says Cervantes. “There was violence everywhere, and I didn’t have anyone teaching me how to cope, how to become an agent for change in the community. For me, it’s mind-boggling that this stuff is being taught at such an early age.”

Dull and Cervantes help the younger students talk about bullying, name calling, and conflicts with teachers and parents. They play a game similar to charades. Except in this game, students act out emotions and learn to read body language associated with anger, sadness or fear.

At St. Procopius School, where approximately 80 students in grades 58 participate in Peace Works, Principal Adam Dufault says he can see they are learning from the experience.

“We rarely have major discipline issues, but the programming is helping to build an interior sense of right and wrong in our kids and a foundation for making peaceful decisions and caring choices,” he says.

The high school students act out scenarios demonstrating how quickly misunderstandings escalate into violence. One scenario set up a conflict between two friends who share a school locker. When one student borrows an iPod without asking permission, the friends argue ... their friends choose sides ... school administrators get involved ... new rules for locker etiquette are drafted ... and a friendship is permanently damaged.    

By working through the scenario, Dull says, the students “realized everyone was affected because trust was lost, reputations were ruined and the whole school had to address a theft.”

“What’s neat about all of these schools is we’re serving a Latino first-generation population where almost all of the students have been impacted by violence,” says Patrick Kennelly, associate director of Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking, which manages the Peace Works Program. “They’re learning life skills to help them not only handle conflict in a positive manner but also address the indignities of violence and other injustice.”

The Peace Works concept was spearheaded in 1997 by theology professor Dr. Michael Duffey as a way to help his own children handle bullying at school.

“The principal didn’t see it because it was happening in hallways, on the playground and in stairwells,” Duffey says.

Duffey’s original curriculum lasted six weeks and focused on a handful of key skills, including active listening and peer mediation. Students simulated conflict and then flipped roles to work as mediators. To be successful, Duffey says, teachers had to empower the students to work through issues without adult intervention. Finally, students signed agreements defining how they would interact going forward.

Since the Center for Peacemaking was founded at Marquette in 2007, Duffey and the center, led by Rev. Simon Harak, S.J., have collaborated on the evolution of the curriculum. It has been used by Milwaukee schools and organizations serving kids and was even taken to a high school in Cape Town, South Africa, where Marquette students worked the curriculum into school lessons.

What’s happening now in the three Chicago schools excites Kennelly. “At least in the United States, one of the leading causes of death and injury for young people is violence and often youth-on-youth violence,” he says. “So by training kids from different schools, you create neighborhoods of kids that have the skills to resolve differences. This program harnesses the positive power of peer pressure and creates cultures where peacemaking and nonviolence are the norm.”

The Center for Peacemaking administers a major in peace studies and a variety of fellowships and programs to enable scholars and Marquette students to study peace initiatives. The center and the Peace Works Program are supported with grants from several donors, including the Sally and Terry Rynne Foundation.

To learn more about the Center for Peacemaking at Marquette, visit JMM

Peacemaking with Boys & Girls Club

In February, the Center for Peacemaking, in collaboration with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and a consortium of area nonprofits and private businesses, received a three-year, $750,000 grant to develop and implement nonviolence education, violence reduction, and restorative justice practices at 15 Boys & Girls Club sites across Milwaukee.

The funding is provided by the Violence Prevention Initiative of the Medical College of Wisconsin.


Comment by Ian Harris at Apr 19 2012 04:00 pm
This is wonderful news! Make my day!
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