By George Gregory
Special to the CS&T

UPPER UWCHLAN – Teaching in the 21st century presents unique obstacles that were not present in times past. A recent initiative called the Peace Institute has been adopted by some archdiocesan schools, specifically by the faculty of St. Elizabeth School in Upper Uwchlan.

Bernadette Dougherty, the principal, attended a three-day series of workshops over the summer along with three teachers from the school. What they brought back to St. Elizabeth are skills that strengthen their interaction with students and fellow teachers.

“By training our teachers on the tenants of the Peace Institute, we hope to take a more proactive approach to preventing antagonistic behavior in the school,” said Dougherty. “These skills will teach students how to resolve problems and communicate more effectively.” {{more}}

Skills covered in the sessions ranged from inspanidual classroom changes to school-wide prevention programming.

The Peace Institute is a three-day professional development experience during which educators learn practical skills and strategies to create peaceful classroom and school atmospheres. These skills contribute to the accomplishment of three educational goals: the prevention of violence and disrespectful behaviors; the development of social and emotional skills in children; and increased academic engagement and achievement.

“It was one of the best school related workshops I’ve ever attended, and I love that the faculty, students and parents are really trying to work together,” said Brittanie Weber, who teaches sixth and seventh grade religion at St. Elizabeth. “It is important to note that adults are included in this, as being an adult does not mean one knows how to properly use these skills.”

At a time when aggression and bullying in schools is on the rise, St. Elizabeth has implemented a “morning meeting” that allows the children to communicate and share in a new manner while building a positive, trusting relationship with their classmates. Conflict resolution is also covered with a part of the initiative called “S.T.A.R.,” which stands for: stop, think, act, review.

“I learned so many things that I have brought into the classroom, and am able to touch base with what’s going on with my students,” said Alexandra DelVescovo, first grade teacher at St. Elizabeth. “Specifically, the S.T.A.R. method has decreased incidents of tattling in the classrom, giving the children tools to resolve issues with little involvement from a teacher,” she added.

Barbara Nawn, the school’s physical education instructor, also uses many tips she learned from the workshops. “Gym presents many opportunities for conflicts, and phys ed teachers can really benefit from the program,” Nawn said.

She reorganized the recess yard into zones for each sport and activity, allowing all students to take part. Team building has also been started, combining different grade levels in physical activity together. And each week, first and sixth grade students team up as “reading buddies,” sharing books and short stories.

Educators continue to be challenged professionally and personally by the rising tide of violence that children observe in society today, and by other factors such as social and economic difficulties in their families. The faculty at St. Elizabeth School, through the techniques of the Peace Institute, strives to create a peaceful school environment as the culture of the St. Elizabeth community.

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.