New Conflict Resolution Initiative aims to reduce bullying, violence throughout Detroit Public Schools

Steven Wasko at 313-873-4542
Kisha Verdusco at 313-873-4546

More than 100 Detroit Public Schools are starting the new year by working to banish bullying and other problems, thanks to the district’s Conflict Resolution Initiative, a $2.5 million program aimed at equipping students, teachers, principals and parents with the skills needed to resolve school-based conflicts, increase tolerance and ward off behaviors that can lead to bullying.

Every school in the district is being paired with a partner company that will work alongside school staff to implement the initiative, which is being funded through Title I, Title IV and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The program began last fall in 31 schools, and this semester an additional 107 schools are getting started.

“Conflicts between students, whether on the playground or in the classroom, take valuable time away from teaching and learning. By being proactive about dealing with these issues, we can cut down on distraction, protect students from bullies and keep everyone focused on what’s most important — academics,” said DPS Chief of Teaching and Learning Sherry Ulery.

DPS this summer adopted a new anti-bullying and harassment policy, but the Conflict Resolution Initiative takes that effort a step further by providing school-based support from 10 providers, which principals selected based on the unique needs of their students.

The companies use different approaches to reducing conflict on school campuses, including working with students directly to train them on conflict resolution techniques, training entire school buildings on how to identify and resolve conflict and even how to resolve differences through play.

“I see tangible differences in the way teachers and students are interacting with each other,” said Mary Kovari, principal of Cody Detroit Institute of Technology. The Cody and Osborn small high schools are working with International Institute for Restorative Practices, whose Safer, Saner Schools program aims to reduce conflict by changing the relationships between teachers and students. “The training has provided me and my staff with remarkable clarity on how to hold students accountable for their behavior. It doesn’t just target kids who are showing bad behavior, it also allows you to council victims of that behavior.”

At the elementary level, Playworks has been working with 16 schools since fall. Their approach involves managing the time of day when kids are most likely to get into conflict – recess. The company provides playground coaches who teach conflict-resolution skills and conducts managed game time.

“Teachers are amazed at how the children will initiate conflict resolution on their own now, whether it’s on the playground, in the hallways or in the classroom, said Jeannine Gant, Detroit executive director of Playworks, which will expand to 18 schools this semester. “We teach conflict resolution by encouraging inclusion, respect and healthy play. The overall result is that teachers spend less time dealing with conflict that spills in from the playground and more time on instruction.”

The district is also working with:
Al Martin Training Services Inc., seven schools
Alkebu-lan Village, three schools
Blane Smith & Associates, 22 schools
M.A.D.E. Training & Consulting, 13 schools
Partnership with Children, six schools
Wayne county Neighborhood Legal Services – P.E.A.C.E. Program, 54 schools
DPS Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities – Second Step Violence Prevention Program, six schools
DPS Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities – Wayne Mediation Program, seven schools

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