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Designing Peaceable Schools Published: Sunday, December 17, 2000 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

The solutions to problems of school violence, like their causes, are to be found in multiple-level responses. We are referring to the levels of individuals, family and community groups, through school organization and the community, to the society. The integrated or combined policy response would deal simultaneously with several issues. One of this issues is school crisis preparedness, including a safe-school program, emergency preparedness and crisis intervention plan.

Another issue is the availability of counselors in the school for helping children and youngsters at developing their emotional intelligence foundation ( managing themselves and managing their interactions with others). While many people want to fix the problem, the real solution is in the interaction of adults with children and young people. It takes three or four caring individuals interacting to save, help or support the child.

A third consideration is class size, students involvement and a prudent moral leadership. All children need to be taught critical thinking skills much earlier than happens currently. This should be taught in smaller groups, with more one to one staff-student interaction and the use of more teacher`s aide. The purpose is to create a healthy environment assuring peer groups to share classes, activities, discussions and sports. Groups should work to include all students, even those who prove difficult, so that all students develop and feel a positive sense of self. The organizational strategy is a very robust one: smaller classes size, leads student to greater involvement with solid adult leadership. All adults in schools should take a more active and conscious role as guides, coaches, mentors and leaders. They should share with students the fundamentals of civic virtue, mutuality and social solidarity, and distinguish between thought and action with positive, rather than negative, outcomes that display a strong compassion for other human beings. In Puerto Rico as whole, classes should be given on compassion.

Another issue that we have been stressing for a decade is mediation, conflict management education, bargaining skills, and peacemaking practices. It is an imperative to teach students how to solve conflicts through mediation and dispute resolutions, rather than through the use of force and aggression. There are not quick fixes to the problem of violence and to the challenge of designing schools for peace, which means peaceful institutionally as well as for youngsters. It is not enough to have conflict management strategies, if the schools themselves conceal a symbolic violence in their surroundings.

Parental involvement must be increased and they should be more active in the moral progress of their children. They should execute some monitoring of the amount and kind of television programs their children watch. There is also a need to improve resources and opportunities in the communities. The idea of community schools, open during after hours, offering youngsters gym, art rooms, courts and other facilities is a very important one. These facilities may seem expensive, but they are socially cheaper than incarceration or death.

Designing for peace is about learning how to do peace.


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