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: 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: 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: 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?
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.
Narrator: For more information about, What Works in Public Education, go to edutopia.org.