Peacemaker Resources Paves the Way for Lifelong Learning in the Classroom
|(Left to right) Caige Jambor, Sharleen Zeman-Sperle, and |
Stacy Bender-Fayette, SEL Specialists at Peacemaker Resources,
work together to plan the upcoming school year.
The mission of Peacemaker Resources is to "foster communication, compassion and connection leading to respectful relationships and healthier individuals and communities" and they achieve this by bringing their social emotional learning curriculum to elementary and middle schools around the state. They were also a recipient of the NMF Quality of Place award in 2016. What makes their curriculum distinctive? Barb Houg, Executive Director, says, "Its preventative approach, its relevance for children of all ages, and its lifelong impact."
The curriculum that Peacemaker Resources is bringing into schools includes a number of programs - STAR (Students Teaching Attitudes of Respect), Girls Lead, Cultural Responsiveness, SEL (Social Emotional Learning), Mindfulness, and Trauma Informed Practices. These programs are designed for children of all ages, races, genders and socio-economic status. SEL teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make sound decisions, and build healthy relationships. A widely cited 2011 meta-analysis previously showed that SEL programs improve mental health, social skills, and academic achievement. The current study shows that school-based SEL interventions continue to benefit students for months and even years to come. A follow up analysis which was just recently released in July of 2017 continues to show the benefits of these programs. Research also shows that SEL has a long term effect by decreasing crime and substance abuse. Additionally, employers identify nine out of ten desired skills to be social skills. These are skills that many high school and college graduates entering the workforce haven't had the opportunity to gain through their formal education.
Houg has been serving as the Executive Director of Peacemaker Resources for the past ten years, but her passion for whole child development has been the driving force behind her nearly three decade professional career. A graduate of Bemidji State University, she has worked for various nonprofit organizations and worked as a county social worker. She and Peacemaker staff have worked to get the STAR Program, which is funded by NMF, into 14 schools. Houg credits the foundation for their co-creation and support of a program in which kids teach other kids social emotional learning skills.
The early years of education are a critical, and stressful, time for children. Some children walk into their learning environment with stresses from home, also known as ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), which makes learning fundamental academic skills challenging. Their minds and bodies are not in a state that is optimal for absorbing and retaining information. SEL provides children with an outlet to address some of these challenges, and gives their peers and teachers skills to practice patience, understanding, and empathy for members of the classroom who may be having a bad day.
Stacy Bender-Fayette is one of Peacemaker Resources SEL Specialists. She told us that SEL is not only making a positive change in the lives of the students where these programs are implemented, but also for teachers and administrators. Teachers, who are typically not trained in SEL, are finding that these skills are changing their relationships with their students and giving them a new perspective on their traditional teaching methods. After a pilot program in 2016 that included SEL classes as well as a trauma coach, behavioral referrals at Paul Bunyan Elementary were cut in half. The principal there even includes an SEL practice every morning as a part of her morning announcements. Parents are saying that their children are using SEL methods at home and encouraging their family members to do the same.
Ten additional schools in northwest MN will be involved in a project through the Bemidji Regional Interdistrict Council to implement bi-weekly SEL classes. By Fall 2017, Peacemaker will be assisting more than 100 classrooms in practicing SEL as a part of their daily lesson plan.
Peacemaker Resources not only provides schools with the SEL curriculum, but supports teachers and administrators with a mentor program. Mentors visit schools, practice the SEL curriculum in the classroom with the teachers, and are available for ongoing check-ins. Naturally, funding for this program can make implementation tricky. Houg spends a lot of her time grant writing, and has seen a number of schools start paying to keep SEL in their classrooms. In a perfect world, according to Houg, SEL would be implemented in all schools across the country. More funding would make it easier to hire and train more mentors to support more schools.
If you'd like to support Peacemaker Resources' critical work,
you can make a gift online via their website.