By Bill Griffiths
Imagine a busload of active, boisterous 4th graders heading for a five-hour workshop that transformed them…for a significantly calmer ride home. This is exactly what one bus driver reported after picking up a class from a session with Peace Learning Circles of Kenosha & Racine. The students had simply been introduced to peace education.
Supported by grants and donations, and working under the umbrella of UW-Parkside’s Center for Community Partnership, Peace Learning Circles is staffed by a small group of dedicated volunteers. The workshops (offered at space made available by Educators Credit Union and Kenosha Parks Department) are designed to teach peaceful living skills, how to be a peacemaker, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully. Nearly 2500 students in Kenosha and Racine have been trained in these methods since the program was launched in May of 2006.
Modeled after similar programs in Indianapolis and Milwaukee, Co-Founder and Co-director Sue Hollow came to this program as part of a personal mission after September 11, 2001. “I had started a program called “Pass It On”, which focused on passing on kindness and acceptance of all people. While we created our workshops using the Indianapolis model, our three follow-up sessions (to reinforce what is taught in the workshop) are based on my original program. Research (done by the Indianapolis group) has shown that 4th and 5th grades are the optimal time to provide training about peace and conflict resolution. To change to a culture of peace, we like to have everyone speaking the same language…we encourage the whole school staff to come. Parents are also welcome to come, so groups of people who spend time with one another learn together.”
Workshops are pre-scheduled and typically conducted from 9 AM to 2 PM, and each student gets a workbook to share with his or her family. This helps parents learn what “makes the peace learning circle connection” and reinforces the program at home. The program teaches resolving problems before they grow and ways for students to avoid violence with one another.
For those trained in the skills of peaceful conflict resolution, a hand signal like the one above offers students a way to back away from a fight without losing face.
“Peace Learning Circles works to empower students to integrate their new skills into their daily life in the classroom, in their family and wherever they might go,” says Ms. Hollow.
If you’d like to sponsor a workshop, volunteer with the organization, or would like to find out how your child’s class could receive peace education, contact Sue Hollow at 681-0135.