Student Peace Advisory Group Takes Flight in MN
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Students may be settled into their summer break - but in Minnesota, some remain focused on setting a peaceful tone ahead of their return to school this fall. Those involved with an emerging Minneapolis program hope it becomes a model elsewhere.
Through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, the group Nonviolent Peaceforce has teamed up with the district for the Building Peaceful Schools project at two city high schools.
Student advisory groups work with peers and administrators on things such as relationship building and de-escalation.
Jassani Bland is a recent graduate of Roosevelt High School. She said she appreciated student-led discussions about certain scenarios, and gave examples.
"If your friend tells you they're going to be getting into a fight after school, are you going? Are you going to be the person that's recording?" said Bland. "And it created a big conversation, like, 'You're not a good friend if you're not going to be there for your best friend that's fighting. But then on the other hand, you're encouraging violence, you should be discouraging them.'"
She said having students lead the way allows peers to better understand each other's backgrounds, and how issues such as community violence factor into their lives.
Program leaders say after the July 4th holiday, they'll open a safe space for weekly discussions, while holding new training sessions. Others involved suggest additional grants would help to expand to other districts.
The project follows Minneapolis Public Schools' decision to no longer contract with the city's police department after George Floyd's murder.
Brandon Krona is the building peaceful schools project coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools. He said some school resource officers were effective, but adds this new initiative puts students in the driver's seat.
"You're not going to be able to change everybody's opinion," said Krona. "But try to change minds and hearts eventually, and give these kids that opportunity to have a voice in what they want to see in their schools prevention-wise."
Sam Taitel, a program manager and community trainer for Nonviolent Peaceforce, said the project is a detour from bowing to personal pride and reputation amid tension within the student body.
"There are a lot of defense mechanisms to valid trauma," said Taitel, "and how to actually disrupt that cycle is difficult."
To get past that barrier, Taitel said students and staff are encouraged to show vulnerability.
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