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Project PEACE Comes to Philadelphia Elementary Schools Volunteer Lawyers Are Needed!

Pennsylvania Bar Association President Michael Reed, Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert and Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas officially launched the Project PEACE program in Philadelphia during an event at Sharswood Elementary School on Oct. 27, 2004. This launch marked the beginning of the Philadelphia School District’s implementation of the elementary peer mediation program that has been sponsored statewide for the past five years by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Philadelphia Bar Association Vice Chancellor Alan Feldman also joined in the festivities to lend his association’s support to the project. The program is funded by the Office of Attorney General and Pennsylvania Bar Foundation.

Project PEACE, which stands for Peaceful Endings Through Attorneys, Children and Educators, works to reduce violence in Pennsylvania’s elementary schools by teaching students how to mediate disagreements peacefully. It empowers children with important life-skills that promote constructive communication, problem-solving, critical-thinking and self-esteem. Children become active participants in promoting positive classroom behavior by taking on the role of mediator and using the mediation process. With the help of neutral peer mediators, conflicts can be settled in a positive manner, benefiting the school climate as a whole.

Philadelphia Lawyers, Register Now!

The Project PEACE partners are asking Philadelphia-area lawyers to volunteer some time to work with the schools. One lawyer will be paired with each Project PEACE school to help the school implement its own mediation program. The first training was held on Thursday, Nov. 11, at Philadelphia Bar Association headquarters. Each attorney who took part in the training received three hours of CLE credit at no charge. The CLE training was conducted under the auspices of the Good Shepherd Mediation Program and LEAP-Kids. Additional trainings will be scheduled in the near future.

The article below describes the program in more detail. Click here to volunteer as a lawyer partner. Thank you in advance for helping the Philadelphia schools to implement Project PEACE. Please feel free to contact PBA Pro Bono Coordinator David Trevaskis at 1-800-932-0311, Ext. 2236, or david.trevaskis@pabar.org with any questions.

What is Project PEACE? How Can Attorneys Help?

— Patience — Commitment — Trust — Setting a good example — Reflecting — Communicating — Helping others — Understanding —

This is not a theoretical list of the virtues we spend a lifetime hoping to achieve. This is what fifth-grade students at an urban elementary school told a lawyer they actually learned from their participation in Project PEACE.

Project PEACE (Peaceful Endings through Attorneys, Children and Educators) is the peer mediation program co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. The program teaches students to mediate conflicts involving other students peacefully. Since its inception in Pennsylvania in 1999, more than 100 elementary schools throughout the commonwealth have participated in Project PEACE. Lawyers work with schools through Project PEACE to bring conflict resolution training and peer mediation education to the young people of Pennsylvania.

When teachers, administrators and parents first observe the results of this program, they are amazed at the ease with which young students diffuse and resolve conflicts. But, conflict management skills are not all they learn. Students in Project PEACE also gain a profound understanding of life — they discover truths that many adults have forgotten.

One of the primary benefits of Project PEACE is that it teaches students that conflict is an inevitable part of life that they should not fear. Through their experience, students see how conflict can create opportunities for growth and development. As a fifth grader told his school’s attorney partner, “It’s good to be in conflict because it helps you learn to solve problems.” This attitude is borne out by an independent evaluation of the Project PEACE model issued in March 2001. The report found that Project PEACE students feel confident in their ability to handle conflict. How many adults do you know who wish they felt that way?

Teachers will tell you that in the field of education, trends come and go every two or three years. Someone is always promoting the latest and greatest. Measured by that yardstick, Project PEACE, at five years of age in Pennsylvania, has survived a couple of lifetimes. Why? Perhaps it is the program’s emphasis on self-determination in resolving conflict and how it connects with youth who clamor for greater independence. Students show that greater student independence brings about greater commitment and responsibility.

In a world where violence and disruptive behaviors have become increasingly common, Project PEACE promotes civility and tranquility. The March 2001, a report found that teachers perceived less verbal harassment, physical harassment and uncooperative behavior among their students after they had participated in Project PEACE. The report also found that students who participated in Project PEACE were able to resolve more problems themselves or through other student intervention. That, in turn, enabled teachers to devote more of their time and energy to teaching rather than disciplining.

This does not mean that Project PEACE is a substitute for discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peer mediation does not replace discipline—it enhances it. Students involved in the program learn firsthand that there are consequences for their behavior and that they must accept responsibility for those consequences. When discipline is doled out, they understand why and accept it. Project PEACE proves that in the shadows of the rebellious, irresponsible youth of The Lord of the Flies, there is a resourceful, compassionate individual who is willing to take ownership for his or her actions.

Lynette Lazarus, a nurse and the Project PEACE coordinator at Sharswood Elementary School in Philadelphia since the program began, has seen “incredible personal growth” in students after they complete peer mediation training. Her students exhibit more self-confidence and pride, as well as a greater awareness of how conflicts are created and how they are resolved. According to Lazarus, we should never underestimate the ability of children to deal effectively with the fundamental challenges of life. The key, she says, is to establish high expectations for the children. They can accomplish far more than we think.

Before students are ever exposed to the techniques used in Project PEACE, an adult team representing the school is formed. The purpose of this team is to establish the groundwork for setting up a conflict resolution education and peer mediation program in the school. Training of team members provided by Project PEACE instructors, as well as review of materials from the nationally respected Community Boards Program, introduce team participants to the peer mediation process and to show them how to teach their students about conflict resolution. This training is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association and Office of Attorney General.

All of the K-8 schools in the Philadelphia School District will participate in Project PEACE starting in the 2004-2005 school year. School District CEO Paul Vallas, Attorney General Jerry Pappert and PBA President (and Philadelphia School District parent) Mike Reed met at the start of the summer to discuss how to spread Project PEACE across the city schools. Vallas saw Project PEACE as an integral part of his overall plan for reducing violence in the schools and he asked Pappert and Reed to bring the program to every K-8 Philadelphia school.

The school’s team for Project PEACE consists of representatives from the administration, faculty, and parents, as well as an attorney volunteer. Although the school personnel assume the greatest responsibility for successfully implementing and maintaining the program, the attorney partner is what distinguishes Project PEACE from other educational innovations. Research into why kids and schools succeed, as well as research on school mediation programs, suggest that the partner from the outside community can have a significant impact in improving school climate. The attorney is the key partner from beyond the school community in Project PEACE. Project Peace provides members of the bar with a unique opportunity to nurture and guide the development of our most important resource: our children. The attorney’s example teaches students more than just how to resolve problems — it shows them how to conduct their daily activities in a constructive and productive way.

Lawyers wear many hats — advisor, advocate, scrivener, spokesperson — both at work and with Project PEACE. This versatility allows attorneys to serve the varying needs of participating schools. As a member of the Project PEACE team, the lawyer’s job is to fill the gaps the team sees in building its program. In Philadelphia Project PEACE, the attorney will join the school team when the team has surveyed its conflict issues and developed a draft plan for implementing peer mediation training and conflict resolution education.

A Project PEACE lawyer can, for example, use her or his organizational skills to help set up the program and coordinate activities. He or she can help promote the program within the local community. If a lawyer can educate a jury about some esoteric, technical aspect of the law, lawyers also have the skills to help train faculty and students to use the Project PEACE dispute resolution process. Many lawyer volunteers have helped their schools find speakers for kick-off programs and other meetings or obtain proclamations from local and state elected officials recognizing Project PEACE. Above all else, lawyers can acknowledge the effort of the students and show enthusiastic support for the school effort. In an era when negative reinforcement flows freely, a little bit of spunk and praise goes a long way in lifting the spirits of students, faculty and administrators.

While Project PEACE asks its attorney volunteers for some of their time, energy and knowledge, it does not look to its lawyer partners for financial support. Many Project PEACE schools seek funds and in-kind contributions (such as pizzas, caps, T-shirts, banners) from civic-minded businesses and organizations. If an attorney is willing to help solicit that kind of support for Project PEACE, that is fine, but the lawyer is not expected to provide that financial support. The attorney’s other contributions have a greater value to the program.

Many lawyers involved in Project PEACE have noted that they learned more from the students than the students learned from them. One lawyer explained, “Sometimes the students remind us of simple truths we’ve taken for granted and forgotten. When I asked a fifth grader what he learned during his two years as a conflict mediator at one of the PEACE schools, he said, ‘To solve other people’s problems, you need to solve your own.’ True enough, but how many of us regularly put that knowledge into practice?”