Playing and Practicing Peace in Baltimore
Students learn cooperation and sharing in schoolyard sessions taught by AFSC’s Miafere Jones.Photo: AFSC
Children in Baltimore are developing conflict resolution skills using games, discussions, role-playing, and other activities, in a program which stems from AFSC’s conviction that nonviolence and community participation can better both individuals, communities, and our world.
“Miss Mia, Miss Mia, can we play ‘Ask for Help’?” asked the fifth-grade girls as they rushed up to Miafere “Mia” Jones of the Middle Atlantic Region’s Baltimore office. Although they might not recognize it, these students are going to work on their skills in communications and conflict resolution through their ‘play.’
They are members of the after-school Higher Achievement Program at Pitts Ashburton Elementary/Middle School, one of two schools where Mia, 23, incorporates training with play, media literacy and peer mediation. She is director for the Youth Empowerment through Conflict Resolution program, which offers workshops on “peace in the classroom” and “listening to our youth” which aim to build environments where peace is practiced and promoted.
These trainings grew out of the Help Increase the Peace Program (HIPP), developed by AFSC staff in 1991 as a youth-oriented program to address violence in schools. Using games, discussions, role-playing and other activities, all the HIPP based trainings stem from AFSC’s conviction that nonviolence and community participation can better both individuals and communities – and, indeed, our world. Mia has worked with over 100 students, staff and community members using HIPP.
Before the ‘Ask for Help’ game, Mia “checks in” with the group, asking if they had a good day, if there’s anything they wish to share. She checks their memory of the guidelines for video interviews on bullying they will be conducting for their digital storytelling project, which includes a blog: Help Increase the Peace Bmore.
“I go (into the schools) with no expectations; the students change every day. But I project we’re going to have a good experience, that they will respect each other. We’re teaching them to handle conflict as an opportunity to learn; to learn to promote peace and justice within themselves first, then their community,” says Mia, who joined AFSC fulltime in October 2010.
The ‘Ask for Help’ game includes running, tagging and passing a large ball from person to person. If a player “asks for help,” she has to get the ball passed to her right away, with no delay. Some girls are quicker than others; others are much shorter. Using gentle questioning, Mia asks “the young ladies” to discuss the impact of different physical conditions not only on their play, but their lives.
When the group hits the streets to go interview neighbors, Mia observes, “I’ve seen a lot of power (in HIPP and other trainings.) Youth are more invested in it, especially in middle schools; adults are constantly putting them down, so it’s a big thing for their self-esteem to be heard. I can step back, to let them to be leaders. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done.”