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Children learn to keep the peace

The 12 newly qualified playground peacekeepers at the Schädrüti primary school in Lucerne

A new programme in Lucerne is giving children the opportunity to be playground peacekeepers.

In conjunction with the National Coalition Building Institute, (NCBI) 12 children at the Schädrüti primary school have been trained to diffuse difficult situations or conflicts in the schoolyard.

The plan aims to diffuse difficult or heated situations, before they lead to bullying or violence. By starting in primary school at an early age, the junior peacemaking mission is a means of preventing potential and more serious conflicts in high school.

“I hope that we can prevent violence, and that when violence takes place we have a good way to deal with it,” says Peter Lütolf of Lucerne’s school psychological service. “I also hope that children can learn something for the future from this peacemaking programme.”

Conflict training

To become a peacemaker the 12 children had to complete three half days of training given by NCBI, a US-based non-profit making leadership training body with six regional offices in Switzerland, which is dedicated to eliminating prejudice and inter-group conflict.

The peacemaker selection process was systematic and rigorous with the NCBI looking for particular qualities in the candidates.

“It is not necessary to be an angel,” says André Sirtes Sharon, from NCBI. “It is not necessary to be wild or even a good student. But it is necessary to be liked by your class.”

The children had to apply for the post with the teachers and NCBI eventually choosing a boy and girl from each of the six classes of 9-10 year-old students.

The fledgling peacekeepers were allowed to skip their classes for the training, but they did have to catch up on what they missed, although Marc André Maurer, one of the teachers, said it “wasn’t too much”.

Learning to listen

The training concentrated on a tried and tested five-step process with emphasis on understanding the conflict in question, listening to the reasons behind it and getting the people involved to find a solution.

The 12 children received their diplomas in mid-October, and are now the proud owners of a special badge which they wear in the schoolyard during the break from lessons.

The badge shows a picture of a Dove, the eternal symbol of peace, against a blue, yellow and red background with the word “peacemaker” written in bold type in a circle around the top.

So far the mini diplomats have not had to step in to diffuse any heated situations but if a problem did arise they would use their five-step process to try and find a solution. However, if things did get out of hand a teacher is always on duty.

“I have to look out for conflicts,” says Deborah del Fiero, one of the peacemakers. Her job is to make sure that when there is a squabble or schoolyard brawl, she doesn’t “rush in like the police” and try to break it up.

“First of all I have to find out if they need help and [discover] what is wrong, then I have to ask them how they’re feeling about the conflict,” she explains. “Then I have to encourage them to find a way to solve the problem and after that they make peace with one another.”

There are already 10-12 other schools in Switzerland with playground peacemakers and Sharon says the programme has been positively received by everyone.

For its part, Lucerne’s school psychological service hopes that more primary schools in the area will adopt the scheme.

by Sally Mules

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR