To resolve a personal conflict, a middle school student might turn to a family member, a friend, or a teacher. Sometimes students also seek support from each other through a school program. This is the goal at Andrew Carnegie Middle School in Carson, California where students are taught to manage and solve conflict.
To acquire the skills necessary to teach youth how to manage and resolve conflict, the teachers at Andrew Carnegie Middle School are being trained through the Domestic Harmonizer Program. This program was developed by California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) and the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), an international non-profit organization founded by its CEO, Academy Award-winning actor, social activist, and 2015 CSUDH honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Forest Whitaker.
The Domestic Harmonizer Program is being piloted at Andrew Carnegie Middle School from 2016-2019, and will serve as a model for expansion to other schools in Los Angeles and potentially across the United States. The program was officially launched at Carnegie on Sept. 6 during two assemblies that were attended by all of the school’s 915 6-8th grade students.
This is a program that I have envisioned for years,” said Whitaker. “To me, conflict resolution is an essential life skill that is best learned during the formative middle school years. Finding solutions to our problems—however big or small—is something that isn’t always taught in school as a part of the traditional curriculum, but it is one of the most important subjects. I am delighted to be piloting the Domestic Harmonizer Program at Andrew Carnegie Middle School with Cal State University, Dominguez Hills.”
Sixth grade students will focus on general conflict resolution, such as learning about conflict dynamics, creating opportunities rather than roadblocks, and practicing effective communication techniques, according to WDPI Program Manager, Monya Kian. In the 7th grade, students learn about peer mediation, while 8th grade students focus on restorative justice. Each year builds from the previous year so students are consistently learning new concepts, skills, and techniques.
“The program infuses Common Core subjects [social studies, science, math, and English] with Conflict Resolution Education,” said Kian. “For example, students learn how mediation may be used to resolve a historical conflict in a better way during social studies classes, and see how the brain functions during conflict, in a science module. Each year there has a different focus.”
In August 2016, teachers from Andrew Carnegie Middle School attended a training provided by conflict resolution experts from WPDI and CSUDH to learn about the curriculum and practice conflict resolution techniques. Throughout the academic year, WPDI and CSUDH will provide technical assistance to teachers as they implement the program.
The Domestic Harmonizer curriculum will be assessed by Heather Kertyzia, an assistant professor in both CSUDH’s Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding program and College of Education (COE), and one of the teacher trainers.
“We have two main goals [for the curriculum], one is to increase academic knowledge among students in relation to conflict transformation, and to build vocabulary for them around that. We want them to understand the concepts and be able to use them in an academic way,” said Kertyzia, who specializes in peace education. “But we are also looking for attitudes, values, and behavioral changes among the students. Our hope is that students learn peer mediation, and restorative justice concepts—that they’ll start to apply that at the school and in their daily lives to resolve their own conflicts.”
Choosing the Right School
Andrew Carnegie Middle School was selected by WDPI to pilot the Domestic Harmonizer Program with the help of COE Dean John Davis and College of Arts and Humanities Dean Mitch Avila based on its fit and readiness for the program.
“We had great buy-in from the faculty and the administration, and the school had a program that was similar to ours that laid great groundwork for us,” said Davis. “They asked really hard questions about what would be required of them, and just how much they would have to change their instructional approach. They were earnest, sincere, and committed as we worked together to find solutions and answers to their questions.”
Carnegie Middle School Principal Cheryl L. Nakata said that often programs that are not designed in an inclusive way often just run their course and are discontinued. She believes that middle school is the perfect age to teach CRE concepts to students.
“Kids in middle school really don’t know much at all about how to resolve conflict. Their first instincts are to yell and scream, and/or physically fight because that’s what they know and see,” said Nakata. “Kids are pretty honest at that age, and they want to do the right thing. When they begin to learn what conflict really is and how to work it out, they will begin to build confidence, and be better equipped to handle all kinds of situations. This is a three-year program with input and feedback from our teachers and students, so I look forward to seeing how it develops.”