by Louise Godbold, Executive Director
Could it actually work? That is the question we’ve been asking ourselves ever since starting our Trauma-Informed, Nonviolent Whole School pilot project at Sally Ride Elementary. Not out loud, of course, but in the dead of the night when the overwhelming nature of transforming a whole school community on a modest budget in less than one year seems difficult at best, sheer lunacy at worst.
The Principal at Sally Ride, Catherine Daley, has blurred edges, she is always moving so fast. Her cheerful optimism when it comes to the school, to the students, to the families, is unflagging: She is the embodiment of hope. The staff is overworked, under-resourced, and working in an impacted community, but Cathy’s enthusiasm is catching. That’s why at least 15 of them assembled this Saturday for our first attempt to bring parents and teachers together in a community that is either fearful or in awe of teachers, and where teachers have little information on their students’ families.
Earlier in the day, the teachers gathered to review some of the practical tools they can use in the classroom with our senior trainer, Ariel Wrye. We were intrigued by the reports on ACES Connection about elementary schools using ‘peace corners’ and figured we would introduce the concept to the teachers. It’s like reading about someone who built an airplane and managed to get it to fly. We copied the design, but would anyone actually be audacious enough to take it for a spin?
“Yes,” Christina, the 2nd grade teacher remarked casually, “I was redoing my bathroom so I brought in the bath rug and put it in the corner.” We followed her gaze to a corner that held a bright-blue furry rug, a large teddy bear, a box of squeezy toys and a clicker. “They love the clicker,” Christina informed us.
The other teachers peppered her with questions. Did the kids abuse the peace corner? What did she do when kids were competing to use it? Didn’t it lead to chaos? Christina told us that yes, the first two days the kids all wanted to give it a try, but then they got used to the concept. After those two days were over, Christina allowed the kids themselves to come up with the rules. “One kid at a time. Turn your back on the class. Other people shouldn’t watch the kid in the peace corner. Don’t spend too much time so that others can have a go.” Christina added another rule. “Don’t use during circle time.” One kid came back from the yard just before circle time and said, “Just a minute, just give me a minute in the peace corner.”
That gave Christina another idea. Most of the emotional fallout happens on the yard. Fortunately for her class, Christina had a second bath rug from her redecoration efforts, and she set it in another corner. Now if the students come back from the yard with a running dispute, she will send them to the rug to sort it out between them.
I held my breath during this whole story. The plane flies! It flies!
Later the teachers joined the parents to hear the founder of Echo Parenting & Education, Ruth Beaglehole, talk about nonviolence in child-raising as a social justice issue for children. Children should be afforded the same human rights as anyone else – the right to shelter, the right not to be physically harmed, to have a voice, to be cared for and allowed to grow. The teachers and parents nodded (the Spanish speakers just a tad behind as the translation came over the head sets.)
Our partners for the student component of the project, A Thousand Joys, led the teachers and parents in some of the activities they do with the students. Hilarity ensued during the scarf juggling, parents and teachers laughing and flailing as they tried to catch the colorful chiffon. Peace descended during the breathing and meditation. “I feel so relaxed,” said one of the parents. “I’ve just come out of hospital and this is the first time I’ve felt relaxed.”
At the end of the morning, everyone was thanked, chairs scraped back and we prepared to go home.
“I’d like to say something,” said one of the parents. We all turned back in her direction. She was shaking a little. “I thought it was just going to be the other parents from the [Echo] parenting class,” she said, “but I am so grateful to see the teachers. Thank you for coming.” The teachers beamed and our team exhaled:
This crazy idea might just actually work!