Children's games yield only winners

Guidance: The Peace by Peace program asks pupils to devise games that help their communities -- and in which no one loses.

April 30, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

On the field where the Johns Hopkins University lacrosse team gathers on spring Saturdays to try to outscore its opponents, groups of schoolchildren were playing games Friday that had a common theme: there were no losers.

The fourth- and fifth-graders -- some had walked from nearby Barclay Elementary, the others had ridden the bus from Fullerton Elementary in Baltimore County -- were participants in Peace by Peace, a national program that had its debut locally this year as students from Hopkins and Goucher College taught the youngsters peaceful ways to resolve conflicts.

"I just loved working with the children," said Richa Verna, a Hopkins freshman. "Sometimes I think I learned more from them than they learned from me."

The pupils said they learned to pretend not to hear insults, to walk away from potential trouble, to talk about potential confrontations.

At the end of the semester, each class created its own board game designed to deal with a problem in its community. Many were set up on a table in a gymnasium at Hopkins and groups of the pupils played them during Friday's end-of-the-year party.

"You learn to play games where nobody loses," said Devin Jones, a fourth-grader from Barclay.

In one board game, when your piece lands on an empty square, you write down an idea to end killing in the community. When your page is filled up, you -- and everyone else who benefits from your ideas -- win.

In another, when you land on a square marked "child abuse," you draw a card that gives a suggestion for dealing with the abusive situation and share it with your fellow players.

Rachel Cohen spent four years working with Peace by Peace while she attended Columbia University in New York, teaching at schools in Harlem and Washington Heights. When she graduated last year, she wanted to make her native Baltimore the fifth city with a Peace by Peace operation. The program was started in 1989 by Francelia Butler, a professor of children's literature at the University of Connecticut.

Cohen spent the fall semester recruiting and training students. In January, about 45 of them headed into elementary schools -- Hopkins students to Barclay, Goucher students to Fullerton -- for weekly one-hour sessions. The goal is for the college students to stay with the elementary classes for two or three years.

"We got two elementary schools with two different populations," Cohen said, noting that Baltimore is the only city with two colleges involved. "That was one of the things we wanted to do."

Each pupil has a pen pal at the other school. They met for the first time Friday.

Stafie Parker, a guidance counselor at Barclay, said the Hopkins students brought more than the lessons when they visited her school. "It was so important for the children to see these college students as positive role models."

Kate Miceli, a teacher at Fullerton, said the lessons taught by the Goucher visitors also had the desired effect.

"The students tended to solve disputes on their own instead of running to me," she said. "The Goucher students really knew how to teach things that fourth- and fifth-graders would understand and be interested in."

In one exercise about cultural differences, for example, the elementary class is divided into two groups. One group is told that its members always shake hands when meeting someone. The other is told that its members always bow and never touch the other person. Then they are told to try to give candy to each other.

"We would do role-playing or play games and then get together and discuss it," said Tia Woodard, a Hopkins junior. "The kids would get it right away. They are unbelievably smart."

Hopkins freshman Verna said she would like the program to include sessions with parents. "Sometimes the kids would tell you that their mom or dad told them to act that way," she said.

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