Jonathan is a fourth grader who feeds his tough-kid image in many ways. Earlier in the year, he was fooling around in the bathroom when Christopher, a small first grader became the unfortunate victim of Jonathan's bullying. Christopher returned to Ms. McGonagle's classroom in tears, quite shaken by Jonathan's physical and verbal intimidation.
His class reacted with compassion and anger. They rallied around their upset classmate, comforting him and sharing their concerns. Then they sprung into action. Through discussions, they agreed to protect each other by accompanying the smallest students to the boy's bathroom. They would make sure this would not happen to another one of their friends. When Jonathan came to the class to apologize, the students clearly expressed how angry they were that he hurt Christopher and kept the school from being safe.
Since that day when Jonathan was confronted by the first grade class a new relationship has been built. On his own accord, Jonathan now volunteers in the first grade class. Every day during lunch, he gives up time with his friends to assist the first graders and Ms. McGonagle. His daily deeds have translated into a productive forgiveness. Instead of being the focus of anger, Jonathan is now welcomed by the class.
Reframing Youth as the Solution
Today, one in four young people experiences bullying on a monthly basis, and for youth ages 10 to 23, homicide is the second leading cause of death. Each day 100,000 students carry a gun to school out of fear, and in Boston, 1 in 10 children has observed a shooting or knifing by the age of six. Research shows that these experiences of violence directly increase the likelihood of high school dropout, unemployment, and unhealthy relationships.
For close to two decades, Peace First has taught the critical skills of peacemaking—conflict resolution and civic engagement skills—to young people ages 3-14. Peace First started with the belief that by reframing youth as the solution and investing in their development as morally engaged leaders, we can interrupt the cycle of violence that predetermines negative life outcomes for countless youth. Through a curriculum that builds the social-emotional competencies youth need to become morally engaged peacemakers, Peace First prepares youth to lead successful lives and helps them become agents for transformative change in their communities, thereby significantly reducing violence in America.
Peace First partners with schools that serve youth from Pre-K to 8th grade. All students participate in a 30-week, grade-specific curriculum delivered through weekly, hour-long classes co-taught by the classroom teacher from the school and a Peace First AmeriCorps volunteer. Through this class, students learn to cooperate, communicate, and resolve conflicts in a developmentally appropriate way. During the second half of the program, students transform their learning into action through projects that teach civic engagement skills while demonstrating the positive impact young people can have in their communities. To ensure whole-school adoption, Peace First trains all participating teachers and works with a group of adult school leaders on initiatives that promote Peace First's principles.
Evidence of Impact and Plans for Growth
Peace First's survey data shows a reduction in problem behaviors and an increase in positive behaviors, as well as the creation of school climates that support high student achievement, both socially and academically. For example, 93 percent of students report that Peace First helped them solve problems without violence and 84 percent of students want to come to school more because Peace First is part of their school. In addition, 95 percent of students report that Peace First helped them to improve their performance at school. In the coming year, Peace First aims to launch a quasi-experimental study to provide further evidence of the positive impact it produces for youth and schools.
Today, Peace First operates in three cities—Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City—serving 5,300 youth annually. Now poised to further scale its services, New Profit is partnering with Peace First as it pursues a two-prong approach: 1) design and pilot partnership models with major national service organizations, such as City Year and Communities in Schools, to deliver the Peace First model, and 2) build a dynamic and interactive website to share curriculum, content, and toolkits with communities around the country and beyond.