When a child opens the front doors to their school building, a mass of concerns can engulf their minds every day. It could be anything from what they got on their math test last week to why their best friend joined a different clique. Regardless of what it is, the different environments and personalities can either harmonize or clash in the classroom. The good folks at Philadelphia Mennonite High School, however, strive to keep their academic community in harmony rather than chaos.
“As high school students, they have to learn how to take responsibility for their actions,” says Dr. Barbara Moses, principal of the school. Since it opened nearly 16 years ago, every student has undergone a conflict management program at the start of their time there.
Peace making is a part of the Mennonite mission, so it’s vital to have such a program exist. As a part of the 9th grade program, students receive a warm welcome from the school. They set off on a retreat in August to help them feel more comfortable in their new academic home. There is team building, a tug-o-war, a meet-n-greet for the students and a cook out. Then there’s an 8-9 week course focused on managing conflict.
Moses says when students have an issue with each other they must discuss it and come to an agreement. These students don’t return to the community until they resolve the problem. It’s important that they have a willingness to resolve the issue. They must learn how not to fight and how to manage the situation.
The school has not had a single fight since 2003. No issue has ever been brought up more than once. Mennonite tries to avoid suspending students to teach them how to handle problems on their own rather than punishing them for it. As a Christian school, the arguing students are taught to pray for each other to resolve their problems.
“We’re equipping the young people to develop their relationships. Life is about relationships. (They can) break up because they don’t know how to control themselves.”
Moses says the program strives to help them analyze a problem, think before they speak, look at the whole picture and think about the consequences of their actions. Stepping away from the school community and discussing the situation to arrive to an agreement helps them discover the truth on their own.
It teaches them to become active listeners and to understand one another’s triggers. It shows them how to think about what’s best for them in the long run and to think about the consequences of the actions they take. Mennonite scholars can walk away with confidence in how to manage certain conflicts, she says.
“It’s all about character. It is about making good decisions. Since it’s a part of life you need to know how to manage (conflict).”
She believes that all schools, teachers and staff alike, should learn these skills to help them handle the students.
“One of the keys to success is controlling yourself; (That’s) the only person you can control in life.”