For more than two decades, Marquette University's Peace Works program has worked to educate school children about "the causes of violence and how to respond nonviolently to conflict," according to the program's website.
This year, the program is once again expanding.
Under a one-year $240,480 contract with the Milwaukee Public Schools, Peace Works is more than doubling its work with the school district, specifically focusing on students assigned to alternative schools – Lad Lake Synergy South, Southeastern Education Center and Banner Prep – because of disciplinary violations. Peace Works is aiming to help those students "modify behavior, improve attendance and decrease suspensions," according to a press release.
"We work with small groups of students and teach a curriculum weekly that focuses on different skills to help them develop conflict resolution and nonviolence education, a repertoire for them to be able to use those skills," explained Peace Works Coordinator Pam Stahler.
The program focuses on gratitude, anger management, and positive communication, among other topics.
"Every year my heart is full when kids come in and say 'Hey, I used that positive communication thing we learned with my mom, and we didn't argue, we actually talked,'" Stahler said.
Each time the group meets, students write down three things they're grateful for in a gratitude journal. Stahler said at the beginning of the program, the participating students typically write nothing, or even something as small as "I woke up this morning." By the end of the semester, students often come up six or seven things, and they write new and diverse things every time, she said.
Last year, more than 90 percent of students in the Peace Works program decreased their suspensions compared to their previous school, and more than three-quarters of the students had no suspensions at all after a year in the program.
Stahler said one of her mottos is, "peaceful schools mean a peaceful city," but in her role as Peace Works coordinator, she takes it a step further.
"Peaceful minds make a peaceful school, and then that translates into peaceful schools making a peaceful city, and peaceful cities make a peaceful world, so it really is that ripple effect, and where we start is with the students in their own minds and hearts."