How can a community be transformed from one of violence to one of peace? St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia may have the answer. A vibrant assembly recently recognized dozens of peacemakers among the more than 500 students. Sixth-grader Fifi Degarr received a special peacemaker medal by the pastor, Father Louis Bier, and the principal, Sister Mary McNulty, I.H.M.

The accolades brought recognition to the 18-year-old program in which students find peaceful ways to handle conflicts. Younger students learn peacemaking by watching how their older peers react to arguments. Typically, they don’t respond by fighting but by stepping back and cooling down.

They take their dispute to the peace room at the school. It’s a quiet space where students can go without another adult to sit around a table and, each person speaking in turn, discuss their problem and work toward a solution.

Many St. Francis School graduates go on to West Catholic High School, where teachers are said to be able to spot St. Francis kids easily. They’re the ones stepping in to stop a fight from starting.

If peacemaking skills taught in childhood and honed during youths’ teen years become ingrained in their life as the main way of managing conflict, imagine the effect on the neighborhoods in which they live. Encouragement and training such as at St. Francis can reorient a young person’s life and, by God’s grace, guide their home communities on the path to peace.