EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
Facing each other, Colt Elementary School counselor Christina DeLoach and Marble Falls Independent School District behavioral specialist Ibiine Ogbanga take up their spots on the Peace Path.
It’s a chance for them to work out a solution for an issue that’s come between the two. After they assume their spots — one in position 1 and the other across from her in position 2 — Colt Elementary Assistant Principal Melissa Fletcher helps them along the path.
Actually, the three are demonstrating how students at the school use the Peace Path to solve conflicts among themselves.
“We have kids from a lot of different backgrounds,” Principal Erika O’Connor said, “and what we’ve learned is many students don’t know how to resolve a conflict or problem with another child.”
She pointed out that the typical adult method of telling kids to apologize and be on their way doesn’t solve the underlying issue. It might just make it worse as it continues to fester under the surface.
Fletcher added that many students enter school without understanding how to resolve conflicts. And while it sounds like a complicated process, Fletcher and O’Connor both believe it’s something children can — and must — learn.
Fletcher, DeLoach, Ogbanga, and O’Connor developed the Peace Path program as a simple way to put kids on the path to conflict resolution. The school believed so strongly in the program that it committed some of its budget to it. Then, earlier this year, it received additional financial support from the Marble Falls Education Foundation.
O’Connor explained that a conflict can be something as simple as a playground dispute or misunderstanding or a more egregious issue.
The Peace Path outlines steps for students to resolve conflicts between themselves but with an administrator or teacher acting as a mediator. The two students face each other then explore what’s behind their issue. Each question leads to a response, which leads to another step along the path.
In their demonstration, DeLoach’s and Ogbanga’s “dispute” started with something one of them said that hurt the other’s feelings. However, the one who made the comment didn’t realize how she had hurt the other. Along the path, the two discover how the words affected each other. Eventually, the “offender” learns how she hurt her friend, and they both come to a resolution.
And that’s key: Students reach a resolution on their own; it’s not handed to them by adults.
Before the kids begin the Peace Path, they’re given time to reflect following the initial dispute.
“It’s not something we do right after something’s happened,” Fletcher said. “We give them time to calm down. You don’t want to do (the Peace Path) right after something happened.”
Colt Elementary initially had one Peace Path in the main office, but thanks to a donation from Pedernales Electric Cooperative, the school was able to place Peace Path mats in each hallway.
Although students come up with the resolution, teachers and administrators ensure it’s a proper one. DeLoach pointed out that this isn’t some “feel-good” concept; it goes to the heart of the problem so a workable and reasonable solution can be reached.
Plus, students learn the valuable skill of conflict resolution that they can take into adulthood.
“This is not a standalone,” DeLoach said. “It’s a puzzle piece. It’s a component of a whole system.”
The system includes how the staff looks at discipline, from the initial response of a teacher or an administrator to the student’s accountability. It’s a restorative practice in which students learn they aren’t just one person moving through the world but rather part of a community — and, often, many communities that intersect and overlap.
O’Connor explained that when a student violates the norms or rules of a particular community, they have to make amends to earn their spot back in that community, not just receive punishment.
At school, if a student deliberately marks up a hallway wall, part of the restorative process could include meeting with the maintenance staff and learning their role as well as helping them clean the wall. Then, if the mark damaged other students’ artwork, the offender would meet with those kids to see how his or her actions affected them.
“This doesn’t mean there isn’t a punishment or discipline,” O’Connor added. “If the student’s action requires and needs a punishment, they get one. Restorative practices aren’t about replacing discipline but a part of the entire picture.”
As more students enter school without skills such as conflict resolution, campuses like Colt Elementary are finding ways to teach them. It’s one of the many “hats” that school staff wear.
“Schools are having to do more, and be more, today,” O’Connor said. “It’s not like when I grew up, where schools really just had to worry about academics. We have a lot more than just the regular lessons to teach.”
The administrators and staff at Colt are on the path to resolving those issues.