At Denali (Alaska) Elementary School, carvings on the playground’s totem pole tell a story that is familiar to all the school's students. The pole's bottom image is that of a panther, the school mascot. A raven, a common Alaskan species, is carved into the top of the pole. The story of the totem pole -- passed along by its carver -- describes how the panther has told the raven to spread the word about Love, Kindness, and Respect throughout the school, then the state and the world.
That totem pole message is evidenced throughout the school in many ways, most prominently by 32 bright-orange vested fifth and sixth graders who are part of its Peace Keepers program. The program has been part of the school’s culture since counselor Max Wortman introduced it some years ago.
“The program started as the Conflict Managers Program designed by the San Francisco-based Community Boards,” Wortman told Education World. “We changed the name to Peace Keepers to be more positive and to tie into our totem pole themes of Love, Kindness, and Respect.”
The Peace Keepers program is open to all fifth- and sixth-grade students. Students accepted into the program must demonstrate responsibility and dependability. The emphasis is on a student’s ability to keep up with classroom work and exhibit strong behavior and effort. Each year, Wortman purposely selects two or three students who might not have the grades but could benefit from the opportunity to build confidence and develop leadership skills.
“Peace Keepers receive special training,” says Wortman, “including lots of role playing and problem-solving practice, instruction in the art of active listening and where and when to call for adult help, and training in how to fill out conflict report forms.”
Each day, Wortman and the Peace Keepers meet during a special 30-minute lunch period before the students head out to their duties. That meeting provides an opportunity for students to discuss special problems encountered on the playground and for Wortman to reinforce the program's themes.
Teachers are very supportive of the Peace Keepers program, Wortman reports. “They allow for the scheduling of duty times and special meetings or field trips,” he said. “They love the help the Peace Keepers provide on the playground. The Peace Keepers take their jobs seriously, and younger students get the attention and support they need when dealing with common childhood disagreements and hurt feelings.”
“The program is a win-win for students, teachers, and parents,” added Wortman.
Read More About the Program at Denali Elementary
Denali Elementary Program Brings Peace to the Playground