Conflict without violence Communication: A program aims to show students with discipline problems how to prevent problems from escalating.

May 05, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The questions came fast and so matter-of-factly yesterday that it was hard to remember the questioners were no more than 13 years old.

"If somebody has a knife and tries to stab you, do you get in trouble?"

"If you're beating up on me and I'm just holding back, getting scarred up, will I get suspended?"

"If I'm wrestling with my brother, does that count?"

Addressing those questions -- and the larger social context of violence in schools that breeds them -- is the task of Baltimore County Police Department's Violence Prevention Program. The 2-year-old program is being conducted this week at Rosedale Alternative Middle School.

Eight students meet for two hours in the morning with Baltimore County police counseling supervisor John Worden, school psychologist Preston Bodison, and Donald T. Fair, superintendent's designee for the northeast area, which includes Rosedale.

Although such programs have long been part of public education, recent incidents of school violence in Jonesboro, Ark., and elsewhere have lent them new urgency.

"We're going to create a situation where people don't need to fight," Fair told the students.

The students at Rosedale Alternative Middle School had been expelled, suspended or transferred from other schools because of disciplinary problems. Fair, Worden and Bodison hope to teach techniques for resolving conflict before it escalates into violence, using a program based on a national model created by a Quaker group in 1990.

That model -- Help Increase the Peace (HIP) -- uses a mix of games, exercises and discussion to teach communication, cooperation and affirmation of oneself and others. It uses the skills to help resolve conflicts without fights or other violence, said Fran Donelan, co-project director of nonviolence programs for the American Friends Service Committee Middle Atlantic Regional Office in Baltimore.

Yesterday's program began at 9 a.m. in a small room at Rosedale. To decide who held the floor, Fair used a Koosh ball -- a round cluster of brightly colored rubber fringe. A student who wanted to talk held out a hand to signal he or she wanted the Koosh ball.

By 9: 35, the ball was in hyperactive play and the rule was being stretched to the breaking point. Fair and Worden asked students to come up with a word that the group could use to calm themselves down, a "buzz word" to restore order.

"Ritalin," said Chavis McCullers, drawing an involuntary guffaw from Worden as he wrote the buzzword nominees on a piece of newsprint. After a quick vote, Ritalin -- a trade name for a drug used to treat hyperactive children -- it was.

Next came the Name Game. The eight students and three adults stood in a circle, and each had to devise an adjective to put in front of their name -- an exercise designed to help them think positively about themselves and each other, according to Donelan.

Amber O'Connell became Ambitious Amber. Bryan Blevins became Baby Bryan. Dwight Thomas was Delightful Dwight. Wayne Behan was Wonderful Wayne. Chavis was Courageous Chavis. Christina Schober was Creative Christina. Calvin Burns was Coordinated Calvin.

Then it was Robert Taylor's turn.

"I can't do this because my name begins with R," he explained with visible anxiety. The cooperation skill came into play, as the others tried to help. R-words began to fly like the Koosh ball, and suddenly Robert Taylor was Rambo Robert -- "the good Rambo," he said.

The names stuck for the rest of the day -- and Worden said he hopes the principles the students will learn over the next four days will last, too.

"My grand vision is to have this in the schools K-12," Worden said.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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