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Hutton Elementary School fourth-graders Cam Stewart,  left, and Robert Sherwood, both 10, work through a conflict resolution exercise about whether to bake a cake or make cookies on Wednesday. (Colin Mulvany)
Hutton Elementary School fourth-graders Cam Stewart, left, and Robert Sherwood, both 10, work through a conflict resolution exercise about whether to bake a cake or make cookies on Wednesday. (Colin Mulvany)

Working it out

Conflict resolution skills part of elementary curriculum

What’s a win-win situation when one person wants to make cookies and the other, a cake, a Hutton Elementary School counselor asked a group of fourth-graders Wednesday.

“Cookie cake,” one of the students replied.

Why is it important to discuss a conflict? “You don’t want to break up a friendship,” a different student said.

Counselor Martha Schaefer has been leading the fourth-graders in conflict resolution over the last six weeks; Wednesday was their last lesson. The curriculum, “Talk it Out,” is used in classrooms across the nation, but officials say variations of the lesson are being taught as well, and at various grade levels.

Schaefer focuses on third- and fourth-grade students and was one of the first to teach conflict resolution in Spokane Public Schools. She’s in her 10th year, and it’s now taught in just about every elementary school in the district, she said.

It’s important to teach the students “negotiation skills,” Schaefer said.

Peyton Holland and Noah Gomez, both 10, role-played a disagreement about which roller coaster to go on at Silverwood Theme Park – Tremors or the Corkscrew – to demonstrate what they’d learned.

First, the two faced each other, stamped their feet and made their demands. Then they each took a deep breath to cool off.

After discussing why they like the particular rides and clarifying their positions, they decided there was time to ride both roller coasters. But then they thought of a completely different amusement ride that they both like – a “win-win” solution. “Let’s ride that one then,” Noah said.

Peyton used the Talk-it-Out steps with her younger sister, she said. “Usually it works, unless she slams my fingers in the door,” she said. Several other fourth-graders also said they’d had success using the techniques at home.

While Schaefer focuses on midlevel elementary school students, other counselors start younger.

Melissa Monaghan, a prevention specialist, is working with children at the Hayden Kinder Center in Idaho.

The program she uses, “I Care,” has five rules: Listen to each other; hands are for helping, not hurting; use words such as please, thank you and sorry; care about each other’s feelings; and take responsibility for harmful actions, such as by apologizing.

No matter the grade level where conflict resolution is first taught, counselors build on the lessons as the kids get older.

Said Monaghan, “It’s taught with the hope that these kids learn it and use it throughout their life.”



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