Students trained to avoid violence

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Ridgeview Elementary School students Shawn Preston and Jessica Hogue were on duty at recess Thursday, as they sported their orange vests and worked the playground as conflict managers.

Preston and Hogue, who are fourth-graders, were two of 12 students on Thursday who participated in the school's Conflict Manager Program, which started six years ago.

Each week, 12 third through fourth-grade students split up in pairs of two and patrol the various recess periods at Ridgeview from Monday to Friday. The following week, a different group of 12 students takes over as conflict managers.

The students job is not to serve as police officers, but to help other students solve their problems, said fourth-grader Tessa Hartsock.

"You try to make the playground conflict free," Hartsock said.

The program, which also has been run at East Elementary School, teaches the young conflict managers some responsibility and it allows students to work out problems, said Ridgeview counselor Suzie Clark.

Clark, who has been in charge of the program for the past five years, distributes sheets to the conflict managers in order for them to prepare reports.

If during recess, students bicker over the rules of a game, that would constitute as a reason for the conflict managers to sketch out a report, Clark said. But the report can only be prepared if the students who are cited are willing to participate.

The report includes the names of the conflict managers, what type of conflict occurred and who was involved in the conflict.

The conflict managers note in the report whether the issue was resolved and then gather the signatures of those who were cited.

The report is then turned into Clark at the end of recess. Eventually, Clark discusses the situation with both sides.

Ridgeview's recess periods may only last for 15 minutes, but that often is ample time for students to argue about a game or to tease another individual. By learning to share, and by understanding how to respect other students, the Ridgeview children will develop some valuable skills for life, Clark said.

"We help kids solve their own problems," she said. "That's ultimately a skill that will be very useful."

At Sunset Elementary School, the Conflict Manager Program has not caught on, but counselor Alison Hobson recognizes the importance of dealing with such situations.

Hobson works with Sunset students on social skills and how to handle situations like teasing and bullying. She teaches the skills in various steps, and then has the students practice those steps.

Hobson says Clark's program is highly respected throughout the school district.

"Suzie has put a lot of energy into this," Hobson said. "She's done a great job with that program."

Conflict managers may be in charge during recess periods, but Clark says she is careful not to provide them with too much power. If, for instance, a fight would erupt, an adult or teacher would handle the matter.

By performing their assigned duties, the students gain some experience in leadership and learn how to interact in a more compatible way, Clark said.

"This provides a real structured process of how to come to a resolution," Clark said.

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