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Montgomery Co. school works to hamper bullying

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 22 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 23 2013 05:50:31 PM CDT

One suburban school thinks it might have the remedy for school violence, even in struggling inner-city districts.

One suburban school thinks it might have the remedy for school violence, even in struggling inner-city districts. The school's whole curriculum is based on teaching young kids to resolve conflicts before they turn into something bigger.

If you visit Friends School Haverford in Montgomery Co., you'll see a very unusual class.

"When you were doing the role-playing, which section do you think of the mediation went really well?", instructor Barbara Leighton asks a group of children.

They are studying peer mediation -- learning how to peacefully resolve each others' conflicts.

"Learning as sixth and seventh graders, to become mediators for children in the school that are having issues," said Leighton.

At Friends School, conflict resolution isn't just something they talk about in passing. It's the central part of their curriculum.

69 News saw it in action in Jen Nates' class.

"This person said this, and then I felt this way, and then I said that back," one student told the class.

"So how do we work on listening in that situation?", Nates responded.

Nates said resolving conflicts openly, in front of everyone, gives timid kids the confidence to ask questions about the lessons.

"If I have an hour math lesson, and then I take five minutes out of it to talk about something that's troubling a group of students or a student, the rest of my math lesson goes so much smoother," said Nates.

For seventh grader LaBria Wilson, it's a big change from her old school.

"They didn't really know how to talk their problems out," she said. "They only knew how to talk their problems out with their fists."

But the question is: can the things that work in a small, private Quaker school also work in a troubled inner-city school?

"Certainly [it's] more of a challenge," said Head of School Michael Zimmerman.

But Zimmerman believes you don't have to be in a wealthy suburb like Haverford for the approach to work.

"You have to start somewhere," he said. "If you broke those kids out into small groups and you talked a little bit about how to be a good friend, at the various grade levels … you'd begin to see some improvement, almost certainly."

It's improvement that teachers here are hoping lasts a lifetime.