Conflict resolution and anti-bullying programs have been a focus at North Boulevard School (NBS) for more than 10 years. That’s why when the N.J. Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights mandated school programs for harassment, intimidation and bullying prevention and response, NBS was ready. The K-5 school, located in Pequannock Township, Morris County, serves just over 300 students. Administration and the school character education and safety teams worked to show students how to respond to conflict and their feelings in a way that fosters their personal development and helps to promote a caring school environment.
Building on the Six Pillars of Character approach, NBS has integrated many procedures into its everyday routines. Peacemakers are primary level students who address conflicts with their younger peers. At the upper elementary level, Heart Club members act as school leaders to help resolve peer conflicts. Both groups use the Peacebridge as a tool to resolve conflicts.
Starting the first weeks of school, students in first through third grades are given lessons on active listening, using “I-messages,” and how to apologize. Heart Club members model how to “stop and breathe,” a cool-down technique to help students get in the right frame of mind to be problem solvers. Using real bubbles for practice, students stop, breathe in as if smelling a bouquet of roses, and then breathe out blowing bubbles.
The rest of September and early October is spent training students in the language and steps of conflict resolution using the visual aid of the Peacebridge, a bridge with prompts to guide them through the process. This bridge is not only seen in classrooms and hallways throughout the school, it is painted on the school playground.
The initial idea for the Peacebridge came from the Lee Canter Course “Teaching Students to Get Along.” Yvette McBain, a first-grade reading specialist and Morris County Teacher of the Year in 2010, saw a video segment of third grade students using a Peacebridge to resolve conflicts as part of her course work and thought it was the perfect tool to bring back to her classroom. McBain adapted the program, trying it with her own students first and then sharing it with her North Boulevard colleagues. Besides the initial benefit of having fewer issues in class, McBain says that it prepares the youth for being peer mediators in the future and offers early training in the principles of conflict resolution so when the students get to fourth or fifth grade, they can mediate more complex problems.
Supported by school staff, parents, and Heart Club members, Class Peacemakers wearing bright blue vests are available to help their peers walk the bridge and find peaceful solutions to their real-life conflicts when they are most likely to occur – at recess times. The Peacemakers read the rules for the Peacemaker’s Bridge and assist their classmates in brainstorming possible solutions. Students are encouraged to think of three solutions to their conflict and agree on one. This avoids having to choose “your way” or “my way.” The Peacebridge provides many opportunities for children to develop good character as they solve problems. Class Peacemakers know, even at their young age, they can be problem solvers and their voices matter. "We realize that when our students feel safe, and when they feel that their thoughts are important to us, they do succeed, and that’s an important aspect of our academic program," McBain explains.
Heart Club members visit classrooms daily to assist students in resolving conflicts. The Heart Club members show respect as they treat students equally and fairly, listening attentively to both sides of the conflict and always remaining neutral. Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Vivian explains that students feel comfortable seeking out the Heart Club members when a conflict begins.
Heart Club members help the students who are in conflicts talk and listen to each other while assisting them in solving their own conflicts. This mediation process helps students to problem solve, analyze the conflicts and to think creatively about their resolution. In order to keep conflicts confidential, Heart Club members can take students to the Peacebridge or to the nurse’s office to help mediate the existing conflict. Improvement in students’ attitudes toward resolving conflicts, deciding when help is needed, and trusting other students to help mediate their conflicts, as well as a steady increase in the number of fourth- and fifth- grade students willing to take leadership roles as Heart Club members, are signs of program success.
Among other noteworthy programs at NBS is The Character Council, a group made up of selected third- to fifth- grade students. Under the guidance of school nurse Lorraine LaTempa, the council conducts student climate surveys, produces The Pillar Press, a school newspaper, and directs school votes related to character themes. The Pillar Press provides examples of good character through drawings, written pieces and an opportunity to nominate peers for actions that reflect each of the six character pillars.
For more information on the programs offered at NBS, contact Yvette McBain at firstname.lastname@example.org or Melissa Vivian at email@example.com.