US Mayor Article

Boston Elementary Schools Promote Peace and Cooperation

July 31, 2000


A number of innovative and effective crime prevention and law enforcement programs and a lot of hard work city-wide have combined to bring Boston's crime rate to its lowest point in 30 years. While Mayor Thomas M. Menino is widely credited with orchestrating the dramatic improvement in the crime problem - violent youth crime, in particular - he, in turn, is quick to credit programs such as Peace Games for helping Boston's young people keep violence out of their lives and the lives of others.

"It's not enough to have more police on the streets," says Mayor Menino. "Our young people need to be offered positive alternatives to violence and despair. They need to know that people care about them and that, if they play by the rules, there is a good life ahead for them."

A peace education program for elementary school children, Peace Games was founded on the belief that, just as they learn to read or ride a bike, children learn how to fight, hate and kill. The program is demonstrating that if violent behavior can be learned, so can peacemaking skills.

Originally conceived by University of Connecticut Professor Francelia Butler as an annual one-day festival through which hundreds of children could share their visions and plans for peace, Peace Games was brought to Harvard University in 1992 in an effort to expand its reach and services. There, over the next four years, college volunteers such as the program's current executive director, Eric Dawson, expanded it to include a peace and justice curriculum. In 1996 Peace Games became an independent, non-profit organization which began pairing volunteers from area universities with Boston elementary school students. In 1997 it became a member of the Massachusetts Service Alliance and the Americorps national service network. The program currently is operating in elementary schools in Boston's Roxbury, Jamaica Plains and Mattapan neighborhoods and in neighboring Cambridge.

Here's how the program works: once a week, students at every elementary grade level, kindergarten through eighth grade, attend Peace Games classes which are planned and taught by teams of Americorps members and college volunteers. Each year focuses on a different age-appropriate theme. Kindergarten classes, for example, talk about friendship while fifth-graders learn about conflict resolution and eighth-graders discuss identity and justice. Students progress through the Peace Games program just as they would a math or science class - week by week, year by year, building their peacemaking skills. And the fact that young people are conducting the classes, serving as positive role models for the children, is seen as another plus.

Across the nine school years, through the use of games, projects and discussions, the Peace Games curriculum encompasses the basics of cooperation, communication and conflict resolution. At the end of each program year, after 18 weeks of classes, the children are challenged to put their education into action by creating community service projects aimed at making their schools and neighborhoods safer. Projects, intended to stimulate learning by doing, have ranged from educating a community about racism to creating peaceful schoolyards to organizing a community clean-up.

Peace Games today also includes:

  • an after-school program in each school which combines the traditional Peace Games curriculum, academic monitoring and support, and art, theater and community service projects;

  • a monthly newsletter targeting families, with tips and games for encouraging peacemaking at home;

  • a Family Leader Program in which a group of dedicated family members from each school acts as a link between Peace Games and other families;

  • a teen program which allows Peace Games "graduates" to continue to take action around peace and justice issues by working in groups in their former elementary schools; and

  • a year-long college leader internship program which offers college students an opportunity to develop skills in non-profit management, education and campus leadership.

And just as it did when it was created by Professor Butler, Peace Games continues to rely on celebrations to inspire children to be involved in violence prevention issues. Each program year culminates with a Peace Games Festival that, with volunteer help, brings together students from across Boston for a day of playing and learning. This year's festival drew 1,000 children, many of their parents, 500 volunteers and 200 school staff members.

"Typically, children are seen as witnesses, victims and perpetrators of violence," says director Dawson.

Since its introduction to the Boston area eight years ago, the program has served 7,500 children, involved 1,500 family members, and recruited 1,000 college volunteers. The $1.5 million annual budget is supported about equally by the federal government, foundations and corporations, and individuals. This fall, Peace Games Los Angeles will begin serving students in Southern California.

Mayor Menino says that getting involved in preventing violence and teaching peacemaking skills works to reduce crime and strengthen communities, and he urges other mayors to follow the Peace Games example and "give all our young people positive opportunities to curb the potential for negative behavior."

Information is available on the Peace Games website - www.peacegames.org - and from Eric Dawson at (617) 628-5555 or at eric@peacegames.org.

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