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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Peace Helpers Become Classroom Problem Solvers

At Brooklyn's PS 24, fourth and fifth graders resolve playground conflicts and train younger students to be peacemakers in their classrooms.

Student: I want the book.

Student: No, it's mine.

Student: No, it's mine.

Narrator: In this second grade classroom, a tussle over a book, becomes a teachable moment.

Emma: Okay, we're having a problem here. Would you like the teacher to help you, or would you like to go to the peace corner?

Student: Peace corner.

Narrator: With older students teaching younger ones a lesson in conflict resolution.

Alexus: Let's say, if me and Gabriella had a problem, then we're going to go inside the peace corner and express our feelings, with a peace helper. And I think everybody knows what a peace helper is.

Narrator: Learning to be a peace helper is just part of the unique curriculum at PS 24, a K through five school in an underserved neighborhood in Brooklyn, which has been transformed by building a culture of social and emotional wellbeing.

Sherley: I grew up in the neighborhood, and I know that the issues that, you know, the children are dealing with are real issues. How can you learn when you're thinking about the problems you're having elsewhere? How can you learn when you're feeling horrible about yourself, how can you learn when you think you don't have any friends, or no one cares for you. I mean, we have to address all these issues before they can even care about anything else. These are like, basic needs.

So I want you to stand up if you ever said something that wasn't nice to someone, that hurt their feelings, made--

Christina: Our school was called a Failing School, according to, No Child Left Behind. What we decided was that the way to address it is not to kill the children by drilling them on, you know, very flat kind of learning, you know, skill and drill, but to really look at the whole child and give them what you would find in, say, a private school. And part of that is, certainly, social emotional learning.

Sherley: Listen carefully. I want you to stand up if someone ever put you down. If someone--

Narrator: Social emotional learning happens everywhere at PS 24, throughout the day. The Reading, Writing, Respect and Resolution Curriculum features books with character building lessons. Conflict mediators, trained in the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, help their peers resolve disputes on and off the playground.

Student: Do you guys need help solving this problem?

Student: Yeah.

Student: Okay, what could you have done differently?

Student: Say sorry?

Student: You're saying that, what could you have done differently, you could have say sorry to him? Okay.

Teacher: What is going on with us today?

Narrator: Once a week, during lunch period, a small group of boys gathers to express their concerns in discussion and art work.

Student: In the club, you can, like, just draw a picture, or write about what happened during, in the problem. Is a lot more easier just to-- you draw a picture of something that happened, than having to--

Teacher: To talk about.

Student: Right, because sometimes people are very nervous.

Student: I don't like when people make fun of me, like, call me four eyes, and stuff, because I wear glasses. I start getting mad, and then I can't control myself. So now my friends are helping me more to not fight. They just tell me to go calm down. I'll calm down, and sometimes I told the teacher.

Emma: Okay, what would solve it for you, Julian?

Narrator: Twice a week, Emma Gonzalez, of the nonprofit Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, comes to PS 24 to train teachers and students in conflict resolution.

Emma: I really wanted a leadership model. I really wanted kids teaching other kids. Kids listen to each other.

Student: So you had a book first, and a girl snatched it from you?

Student: Yeah.

Student: How do you feel?

Student: I feel mad.

Emma: Young people really begin to think critically about their own actions, and begin to have a place where they can talk about feeling bad. If there was a fight at home, if there was a problem, they didn't have enough to eat, where they could really, you know, feel free in a safe environment, to express what they were feeling.

Student: Do you need my help?

Student: Yeah.

Student: What happened?

Emma: And it's very easy to train kids to be helpers. It's very easy.

Okay, so do you want to ask what they're doing, what did they want?

Alexus: I like doing it, because I like helping other kids, and it's very fun for me, because I get to have fun, and then be serious at the same time.

When the peace helpers were helping solve the conflict, what did you see the peace helpers do?

When I do stuff like the mini lesson, I have to stay focused and especially when I'm working like, first graders or kindergarteners--

So anybody else want to try?

I'm still learning, because if I go into sixth grade next year, I need to learn how to control my anger, because I have a serious temper problem.

Sherley: I want you to think about what makes you really angry. Angry, that--

Narrator: One period each week, Sherley Guerrero's fourth graders practice conflict resolution skills.

Sherley: Okay, stop. Shamara punched him. So was she being strong, mean or giving in?

All: Mean.

Student: Giving in.

Sherley: But I thought it was interesting that Shamara and Gabriella actually looked at their choices, but they chose to be mean.

My class did a lot of this work last year, and by the end of the year, they were so confident, it was great, it was just amazing, the work they were producing, the way they presented themselves, the way they spoke to others.

Does that happen in the real world? So let's turn and talk to your partner. What can happen because she chose to be mean?

Narrator: For Principal Fuentes, PS 24's modest investment in the programs has paid big dividends.

Christina: It's actually not that expensive, it's a minimal investment of resources. It's really more the will to do it, and the time to spend with the professional development and thinking about how this really just gets infused into what you're doing normally.

Sherley: Okay, so we're going to put our arms around each other.

Christina: We have definitely moved. We were considered a failing school, and now we have met our adequate yearly progress.

Sherley: Together we stand.

All: Together we stand.

Christina: So I think that all those kinds of very objective measures are showing that what we are doing is working.

Sherley: Strong, together.

All: Together.

Narrator: For more information about, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Orlando Video Productions


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas
The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has just developed a step-by-step guide educators can use to create their own Peace Helpers program, as seen in the video.

Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

A. Figueroa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a native New Yorker living in Puerto Rico. I have to say that I enjoyed watching this video. It gave me flash-backs when I was in school. Eventually, I have a teachers' meeting and will integrate this video and its best practices to our k-12 ESL teachers. We are going to role model "Peace Helpers" in our schools. Thanks!

jan Brychta's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The video was very impressive. I feel the school is getting to the "core" of the problem. A child's basic needs must be met before they learn. Letting the older children be such a huge part of the PS 24 is great, and contributes to the success of the program. I do not teach in a private school, however have always taught to the "whole Child." Great Principal and Teacher. MS. Gonzalez was very inspiring! Congrats on making AYP.

S.Steelman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Appropriate peer intervention, has always shown promise and success. Any program that encourages older student's to help resolve classroom conflicts/behavior problems etc., is worthy of an applause!
PS Good film & Editing.

Victoria Blakeney's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved the video. We just had the chance to visit PS 24, and the work they are doing is wonderful. The video is a very accurate portrayal of that work. Thank you.

vincent's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

wow. i feel mad because i was suppose to be in this video

Janice Hansel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had the opportunity to see this school and its SEL program in person. The video accurately portrays what they are really doing. It is not a "PR" piece. They are amazing. I just loved seeing the kids working to resolve their disputes.... What a difference this program would make if more schools would use it!

MBedan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just watched this great video. It inspires me to use a conflict resolution program in my first grade classroom. I loved how the teachers used teachable moments to address social/emotional issues that students have daily. I am thrilled to see the confidence that EVERY student exhibited. Awesome Job, you encourage me to do better job on such an important piece of the learning process.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I watched this video and I thought it is very nice what the kids and teachers are doing. This would improve the community for the kids and help them learn to be better in life. I am very happy on the positive attitude this kids have. Good luck!

herbert's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find it simply wonderful, if there is some kind of help for younger students. The seniors must always be an example for the younger and help them if such a need arises.

Sarah Gibson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to watch this video and see the amazing things that are going on at this school. I feel that the teachers and directors of this program are right on target with how they are implementing this program. I thought it was great that they are focusing on character building lessons in school. Having the students teach the other students about how to handle conflict is a marvelous idea! I taught at an inner city school several years ago and we were implementing a similar program. The results from this program were so inspiring. We were teaching the students life skills that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Keep up the great work!

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