Making Peace

Making Peace

On a recent Saturday morning, seven teenagers sat in a circle in a classroom in a church basement, with two adult facilitators. Each had been referred, either by a judge or a Youth Aid Panel, to the LAVORP Making Peace program. All of the teens had been involved in incidents of fighting and disorderly conduct. One student was referred to Making Peace because he had initiated a fight with several boys who had been bullying him.

The facilitators were LAVORP-trained mediators and instructors for the Making Peace program. The facilitators sensed more than the usual level of tension in the room (the youth are usually angry about being mandated to attend a Saturday class on top of whatever other anger issues they may have). But they proceeded with the Making Peace course.

Making Peace helps young people examine their perceptions, feelings, choices, and consequences, as well as their own anger triggers and warning signs they experience when they’re about to “lose it” emotionally. The youth learn about conflict-management styles and appropriate situations in which to apply different approaches to conflict. They learn cool-down strategies, I-messages, and active listening skills, and they have opportunities through role plays and interactive exercises to practice these skills. And, they create a personal action plan, based on what they’ve learned in the program, to address their own specific conflict and anger issues.

Throughout the morning, the students participated and answered questions, but one of the facilitators noted there seemed to be some subtle obstacle to them entering wholeheartedly into the class. “They seemed restrained in some way,” she said. During the mid-morning snack break, the facilitators discovered that five of the seven students attended the same middle school.

As these seven students were learning all of this, their parents were in another classroom down the hall with two other facilitators in a separate parents’ component of the Making Peace program. In that session, parents discuss the challenges they experience in parenting their children, how their child’s actions and being in trouble with the law have affected the parents, their own conflict and anger management styles, and effective strategies for working through conflict situations with their children.

At the end of every Making Peace program, the parents and youth are brought together during the last thirty minutes for a Learning Circle, where they discuss what they’ve learned. Each child commits to a specific goal, and their parents commit to a specific way in which they will support their child. Tears often flow during the Learning Circle, as parents and kids take tentative steps toward better relationships, with each other and with those around them.

After the Learning Circle ended in that recent Saturday class, and the parents and students left, the facilitators from the student program and those from the parents program talked, as they always do, about how each session had gone.

The facilitator of the parents’ session reported that the mother of the bullied student had talked about her son’s situation and the incidents of bullying he’d experienced from two other boys at his school. Two other women in the class happened to be the mother and grandmother of those two boys. They immediately recognized the situation and they apologized to the mother of the bullied boy. It was a powerful moment of healing between the adults.

But the facilitators of the youth session hadn’t known that both the bullies and the victim had been in their class. They just knew there was some underlying tension in the room. They hoped that somehow, the things they’d taught in the morning’s session would help all of the youth seek out peaceful ways of addressing conflict.

The facilitators discussed how to gather the necessary information from the judges and Youth Aid Panels in the future to know whether youth involved in the same incidents were being referred to the program, and how to address such situations in the future. Then they all went home, feeling glad to have another Making Peace class completed.

But the story didn’t end there. Several weeks after the class, the mother of the boy who had been bullied stopped by the LAVORP office. She was very excited about what had happened at the Making Peace class, especially what happened after the class was over. She said that in the parking lot after the class, the other two boys came to her son, and both apologized to him for their actions toward him last school year which lead to the fight. The mother said that this really meant a lot to her son. Then, she said, the boys exchanged phone numbers so they can keep in touch with each other, since her son is in a different school this year.

The boys had made peace with one another.

As facilitators for the LAVORP Making Peace program, we don’t often get to hear about the long-range outcomes of what we try to teach both the youth and the parents. We do our best to offer them “another way” of working through the conflicts in their lives. We always tell them, we can provide some new tools for them to use, but it’s up to them to decide whether they will use those tools.

A wise and wonderful friend often tells me, “Remember that the seed never gets to see the flower. So you just have to keep on planting seeds and trust that something beautiful will grow.”

What a blessing through this story for all of us to see one of those seeds germinating!

RELATED ARTICLES

article from LAVORP about Making Peace (formerly called “You Can Be A Winner”

More about Making Peace and how to make referrals

Article about LAVORP’s other restorative justice work in the community

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