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Education Fourth-graders learn peaceful resolutions

Linda Erickson reads about peace Full Circle Restorative Justice volunteer Linda Erickson, left, reads from the book “Peace Begins With” as Longfellow Elementary School fourth-graders Lanee Dziura, center, and Skyler Margos listen. The exercise is part of the peer mediation training conducted by Full Circle Restorative Justice. The training teaches students to find peaceful solutions to conflict.

Linda Erickson reads about peace
Full Circle Restorative Justice volunteer Linda Erickson, left, reads from the book “Peace Begins With” as Longfellow Elementary School fourth-graders Lanee Dziura, center, and Skyler Margos listen. The exercise is part of the peer mediation training conducted by Full Circle Restorative Justice. The training teaches students to find peaceful solutions to conflict.

With 4 hours of peer mediation training under their belts, a group of fourth-graders is ready to peacefully resolve any conflicts that might break out among fellow students at Longfellow Elementary School.

The 15 students completed their second 2-hour course Thursday. The training – conducted by Full Circle Restorative Justice – is intended to teach children how to peacefully resolve conflicts, said Patty LaTaille, Full Circle Restorative Justice program director.

The abbreviated course involves exercises that place the children in scenarios with the potential for conflict.

“We want to give them the tools to express themselves in positive ways that get beneficial results,” she said.

Longfellow has had a peer mediation program for its fourth-graders for at least the last 8 years, said Katherine Guthals, Longfellow counselor. The program helps teach kids leadership and communication skills.

“It’s an amazing program for the kids,” said Longfellow Principal Chuck McKenna. “The kids are learning great skills.”

After the children participate in training sessions, they work in teams of two overseeing the lunch and recess periods for first- through third-grade students. If a conflict breaks out during that time, the mediators are on hand to peacefully resolve the altercation.

The students will be on duty starting next week, and they’re eager to start their new job, Guthals said.

While LaTaille originally intended Thursday’s session to be the last, she said she would likely conduct a few shorter training sessions in the coming weeks.

Guthals has worked with Full Circle for mediation training the past 3 years. LaTaille’s approach puts an emphasis on empathy and listening to students to find a peaceful outcome for everyone involved, Guthals said.

In addition, bringing in people from outside the school makes the kids “feel very special,” she said.

The nonprofit organization focuses on training people to find peaceful and constructive solutions to conflicts, including instances in which a juvenile faces criminal charges.

“We work with kids, teachers and parents to find an alternative way to fix the problem,” LaTaille said.

Earlier this year, Full Circle helped facilitate compassionate communication training with teachers and students at Crest Academy, and the group is planning to conduct peer mediation training with student council members at Salida High School.

The organization recently received encouraging reviews for its practices at a conference in Vail in early October. The group received positive feedback from attendees, which consisted mostly of district attorneys, judges and probation officers from around the state, LaTaille said.

Because justice does not always mean punishment

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