Center For Attitudinal Healing
COMMUNITY OUTREACH: The School Project

The Problem
    Violence is increasing in our schools at an alarming rate. Youth are currently involved in 30% of crimes and teenage gang related killings have tripled since 1984. Metal detectors are being placed in an increasing number of high schools and it is estimated that 135,000 guns are brought into schools everyday. Homicide is the nation's third leading cause of death for elementary and middle school aged children and suicide rates have quadrupled among teenagers. The Center for Attitudinal Healing has worked to address the problem by providing youth with tools to help them approach their personal reality more constructively, resolve conflicts before they become explosive, and, in a larger sense, to make choices that support peace of mind. Studies show that programs that teach children "positive self-management and social skills" significantly reduce the incidence of violence in schools and at home, helping drug addicted and violent youth to heal.

The Purpose
    The purpose of the Project is to demonstrate an approach that can heal the fear, conflict and separation that exists in public schools today. The project aims to facilitate a psychological shift in young people's attitudes toward themselves and each other, and in so doing, foster and sustain positive relationships. This shift would be global in terms of the overall atmosphere on campus, personal in terms of the way young people feel about themselves, and interpersonal in terms of the way they relate to one another. A training and peer support program using the Attitudinal Healing approach would help students work through and ultimately release the conflicts, fears, and misperceptions they have, and in the process learn to become skillful at making choices that lead to healed relationships.

The School Project's Track Record
    This approach has been implemented through the Center for Attitudinal Healing in the Sausalito School District since 1994. The Sausalito Elementary School District is a racially diverse district of more than 300 students, more than half of which are African-American. The school program includes grades K-8. The African-American children live in Marin City, which is adjacent to Sausalito, but divided by the freeway on the northern border. Authorities estimate that 75% of Marin City's children are without father figures, more than 60% are abused, and many are raised by their grandparents. Unemployment is high in the community and a majority of the men have been in prison at some stage of their life, some as early as 11 years old.


    There have been persistent problems in the school district with student behavior that no remedy seems to resolve. There is an increasing sense of frustration and burnout for teachers, particularly in the upper grades. A number of teachers feel they are making little or no difference in helping students, some because of the discipline problems and others because of the magnitude of social problems the children face everyday. On the other side, many students tend to perceive teachers and staff as prejudiced and feel angry with the school system in particular and society in general. There are also problems with the aggressiveness in the way some children treat other children, which tends to deflate self-esteem and promote fear. There is conflict between parents and the school; from the school's frustration with parents who they see as uninvolved with their child's education and/or life to parents' frustration with what they perceive as the school's inability to control situations that arise.

    Despite this level of difficulty, there is a very strong indications that the approach we offer makes a difference in the students behavior and attitudes. Its success is reported by students in the eight class.
These comments typify what nearly all the students had to say:

    "When all of you would come in (the classroom) with a big smile on your face it would fill the room with happiness and more happiness. During the sessions, I realized more and more about my feelings. . . I am proud to say that I have learned a lot from your group. I learned how to talk out my problems with my big sister. Attitudinal Healing taught me fighting is not the answer; talking it out with someone is the answer. . . I loved the groups and how you (facilitators) made everyone in the class feel good and not as mad as they were before you came. . . I appreciate what you have done for me, you have helped me control my anger. . You have taught us how to make our anger and pain go away. We had fun this year and I hope you come back next year. . . Thank you for coming to Room 28 every Tuesday. Every time people would tease me I'd get real mad but now it has changed, life is easier. The tide used to carry me out with strong madness. (but) your positive moods put me in a new wave. . . You taught me something about peace and a way to talk out my problems. I really liked having the time to tell how we were feeling, to see how we were all doing and to tell the problems we had."
The Approach

    The Project focuses on five areas:

  1. The Theater Event
  2. The Classroom Program and
  3. Student Peer Support/Conflict Mediation Training
  4. Support for Teachers, and
  5. Convergence.

The Theater Event
    The program kicks off with a theater event produced by the award winning Educational Theater Company (ETC) from Los Angeles at a school assembly program. The Company performs a short play which characterizes the conflict on campus and shows approaches that can takes things in a different direction.

The theater event provides an enthusiastic beginning to the project for students and stimulates interest and participation. It sets the context, encourages people to let go of past grievances, to heal feelings and attitudes that create separation, and to open to a different way of being with one another and being at school.

The Classroom Program
    In follow-up to the theater event the School Project provides the "Classroom Program". This program provides weekly group meetings with students, facilitated by Center staff and volunteers. The group meetings exist to provide students with a psychologically safe place where they can explore difficult problems, express and process bottled up feelings and thoughts, and develop ways of helping one another. In the group, participants also learn to use the principles of Attitudinal Healing to change self-defeating attitudes and to open to new choices and possibilities.

Some of the agreements/guidelines for group meetings include:

  • We agree to give mutual support and to practice non-judgmental listening and sharing.
  • We are not here to give advice or to change anyone's beliefs or behavior. Being accepted as we are makes it easier for us to accept others.
  • We share from our own experience. By risking and exposing our own emotional state, we find common experiences that allow for joining.
  • The roles of teacher and student are interchangeable and fluxuate from one to the other regardless of age or experience.
  • All information shared in meetings is confidential.
Peer Support/Conflict Mediation Training
    In addition to group meetings, a peer support/conflict mediation training is offered at Sausalito School District is offered to students participating in the Project, as an elective course for credit. Training is provided once a week and part of each session includes skill building for effectively mediating conflicts on campus and reaching out and helping others. Students have homework assignments designed to practice communication skills and other concepts presented in the group. The goal of this program is to establish a core of peer support/conflict mediation counselors on campus to help other kids who need some form of support, to give the peer support/conflict mediation counselors themselves an experience of being a difference in another's life, and to hold up positive role models for other students.

Support for Teachers
    A 2-hour workshop session is presented to teachers and staff during their orientation program in August to introduce them to the program. The session highlights the program the Center will be offering to students, and discuss approaches that enhance communication between teachers and teachers and students. It presents principles that help to shift self-defeating behaviors and attitudes, encourage letting go of fear and conflict, and supports a different way of being with one another and being at school. In the workshop we also discuss the issue of staff stress and burnout and how certain attitudes can aggravate stress while other attitudes can actually help to alleviate it. We would present tools that can help reduce the experience of stress at work. From the workshop we recruit teachers to join a support group that use the same approach used for the student groups.

Convergence
    In the second half of the year, students and teachers participate in joint support group sessions at least once a month. The purpose of bringing students and teachers together in these sessions is to provide opportunities for expressing and exploring feelings and attitudes, processing and letting goof differences, increasing understanding, and generating experiences that allow for joining. Converging the two groups gives each group the chance to the other in a new light. During the first half the year both groups have been "students," learning this new approach in their own groups. At this level of experience, they have both been beginners, which makes them equals. Converging the groups gives them the chance to apply this new learning and this new way of being toward forging a new relationship with each other.

The Significance of The School Project
    What is significant about the Project is its potential to shift the attitudinal climate on campus. The conflict on campus is pervasive. It exists between students , students and teacher or even among faculty and staff. Much of the time these feelings remain bottled up without any avenue for constructive release. The project has the potential to change these circumstances. The group meetings provide a safe place for people to process and express feelings and to let go of conflicts. It provides opportunities for people to mutually support one another and these experiences naturally serve to facilitate bonding between people. In this way, the Project, as a whole, has the potential to strengthen the general sense of community at school. Both student and teacher support groups, though meeting independently most of the year, are nonetheless involved in the same process of learning to apply a new set of psychological principles to old problems. What these principles facilitate is a choice for inner peace, self-worth, and constructive action, and they affirm the intrinsic value of each person. Later, at those times when student and teacher groups merge, they will be speaking a new language that is rooted in a more open attitude and facilitates the kind of relationship that makes a difference in the environment at school.

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