On a gray Tuesday afternoon, about 20 students were staying after class at Holmes Elementary School. They weren’t in trouble. They had been nominated by their peers to be part of the school’s Peacemakers Program, a leadership class supported by Camp Fire USA’s Inland Northwest Council.
As the kids settled down after a group exercise about sharing and working together, Camp Fire’s Erica Nolte asked them about the experience.
“How did it work for you if you were all talking at the same time?” Nolte asked.
For some kids, that worked great, but the majority quickly agreed that it was easier working together if they took turns talking.
“Would you agree,” Nolte asked, “that sometimes to be a leader you have to be a follower?”
Most of the kids nodded in agreement with that statement.
Holmes’ Peacemakers are part of the Spokane Leadership Program, which is conducted in partnership between Camp Fire USA and Spokane Public Schools. Students at Logan, Longfellow and Stevens Elementary schools also have an opportunity to join the program. The schools are selected because they are in low-income neighborhoods.
“This is the fourth year of the program – it’s funded by a five-year grant from the Spokane County United Way Partners Fund,” said Maggie Crabtree, communications manager for Camp Fire USA’s Inland Northwest Council.
Camp Fire staff including Nolte, who is the camp director at Camp Fire USA’s Camp Sweyolakan in Idaho, work closely with school counselors to carry out the leadership program.
Grant Caldwell, the counselor at Holmes, said he really appreciates the help and support he gets from Camp Fire USA staff. School district budget cuts have left Caldwell the only counselor at Holmes.
“Camp Fire came on board last year, and it’s been great having their support here,” Caldwell said.
The 28 Peacemakers are fifth- and sixth-grade students.
Students are nominated by their peers, and the list of nominees is culled by teachers, principals and Caldwell.
“We pick students with strong leadership skills, and we pick a few ‘dark horses,’ ” Caldwell said. “The dark horses are students we aren’t so sure about. Sometimes they do well and sometimes they crumble.”
Nolte and Caldwell aim to teach the students active listening skills, respect and how to include others in activities in class and on the playground.
On a sidewalk by the school, a Peace Path has been painted. Peacemakers learn how to use that visual tool to help students who have conflicts on the playground.
“The Peacemaker walks with the students who are having the conflict, and the steps along the path help them,” Grant said. The most common problems and conflicts the Peacemakers encounter among their classmates are someone breaking a rule when a game is being played and name-calling and teasing.
“There are certain problems that should be reported straight to a teacher,” said Grant. “Serious insults, bullying and fights – the Peacemakers don’t deal with that.”
One Peacemaker took a younger student under his wings when the young student kept missing the last bus. Grant said the Peacemaker went and got the kid, every day, for a whole year, and made sure he got on the bus.
“That was pretty amazing, to see that,” said Grant, adding that it’s been great to watch the students build leadership skills and learn to communicate better. “They have been growing a lot, that’s for sure.”
The program will continue for another year, and Crabtree said Camp Fire USA would like to continue the collaboration if funding allows.
“This program helps the school counselors feel supported too,” Crabtree said. “There really aren’t that many support services for people who provide support to others.”