St. Nicholas School students Alyson Perna and Mattie Carasciaro resolve a conflict on the playground with conflict manager Lauren Cheek.
The shrill of the bell fills the teeming playground at St. Nicholas School, in Los Altos Hills. Children run in all directions back to their classrooms. Three second-grade girls flag down an eighth-grade student, wearing a bright orange T-shirt with the words "Conflict Manager" across the back.
The orange shirts serve as a beacon on school grounds for those who have a conflict to resolve.
Early last August, the faculty was introduced to a conflict resolution program called "Tribes." The program focuses on building a stronger classroom community and aims to reduce stress and conflict. It is hoped that a safe emotional, physical and intellectual environment will be provided for students.
"Some parents were interested in starting a conflict resolution program and the school was very interested in doing the same," said Nicole Quinn, a second-grade teacher and Tribes coordinator at St. Nicholas.
Tribes is currently administered though Center Source Systems, in Santa Rosa. The program is used extensively in Bay Area public and private schools.
"It is a process that can be used by anyone, in any age group," said Jeanne Mancour, Tribes training services coordinator.
St. Nicholas is the first South Bay school to fully implement the Tribes program, according to Michelle Sklar, St. Nicholas publicity chairman.
"Tribes teaches students the life and communication skills necessary to build and maintain healthy relationships," said St.Nicholas principal Mary Williams.
"In addition, (Tribes) helps all students to feel safe and valued for their uniqueness."
Tribes is a step-by-step process to achieve specific goals. The students are taught four Tribes agreements: attentive listening; appreciation/no put downs; mutual respect; and the right to pass.
Students also learn a set of skills so that they may develop more long-term ways to deal effectively with conflict when it arises.
Students are taught to use I-messages to communicate and solve their problems. For example, "I feel (emotion) when (action or behavior) because (reason for emotion) and I would like (something to happen)."
Eighth-grade and fourth-grade students at St. Nicholas, elected by their peers, are trained as conflict managers. A representative from Tribes teaches the conflict mediators resolution skills.
This is part of the of the Conflict Resolution Educational Services and Training (CREST) program presented in conjunction with the Tribes program.
"The students in my class have really enjoyed having a student help them as opposed to a teacher," Quinn said. "It empowers the students to give peers support."
"I expected more conflicts but we have only had two or three. I think that it took a while for the kids to get used to having someone on the playground that could help solve conflicts, but it's been good,"said eighth-grader Lauren Cheek, a conflict manager.
Chip Kraemer, another eighth-grade conflict manager has learned from his experience.
"I have learned that I guess I don't remember as much of being a kid. I have figured out there are lots of complex problems, even with little kids. It is nice to have possible solutions."
Kraemer graduates this year from St. Nicholas, but hopes to contuine being involved in conflict resolution programs while in high school.