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Western Justice Center Empowers Educators to Diffuse Conflict and Disarm Bias

Published on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 | 10:05 am


The Pasadena-based Western Justice Center, which advances alternative dispute resolution techniques in courts, communities and schools, held its annual ABCs of Conflict Training Program, an intensive 30-hour professional development deep dive into the power and practice of conflict resolution and restorative justice.

“We have a chance to teach young people a different way to deal with conflict than what they are seeing modeled for them in public life or on social media,” said WJC Executive Director Elissa Barrett. “Imagine what our communities would be like if the next generation was comfortable with conflict and knew how to help people find common ground? Imagine what our communities would be like if educators had the tools to create that seismic shift?”

Sixty educators joined the ABCs of Conflict program this year, which was held during the second half of June 2019. Participants included local teachers, high-level administrators, counselors and youth leaders from a wide range of institutions, including public, independent, magnet, charter and continuing education schools.

The graduates came to ABCs of Conflict knowing that young people face conflict on their school campuses every day – conflict that might arise from economic, family or community stress, or from the impact of our current political discourse.

Educators leave with the skills necessary to empower young people to diffuse conflict and disarm bias. “It’s an amazing training [that allows us] to understand conflict, to understand mediation, to understand real life scenarios that happen in the classroom and outside the classroom,” said one educator. Another participant said, “[I] absolutely recommend this to colleagues of mine at my school site and beyond my school site. This is something all educators should be required to do.”

The 2019 participants join more than 300 ABCs of Conflict alumni who bring fresh skills and renewed energy to their schools.

These educators, administrators, and youth leaders will offset the current impertinent and divisive trend through the peer-to-peer student mediation and restorative justice practices programs they have implemented in schools in South and East Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, Culver City and the San Fernando Valley.

The force and effect of that collective work is profound. Schools that use conflict resolution programs, such as peer mediation, see as much as a 50% decrease in student suspension rates within their first two years. That is because peer mediators resolve more than 90% of the conflicts they mediate and implement 80-96% of those conflict resolutions.

ABCs of Conflict 2019 was taught by former WJC Conflict Resolution Program Director, Emily Linnemeier, who is pursuing her doctorate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Linnemeier was joined by Jason Harper, professional mediator, adjunct professor at the USC Gould School of Law and past president of the Southern California Mediators Association (SCMA). Also on faculty was Schoene Mahmood, Restorative Justice Program Manager at Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Urban Resilience.

ABCs of Conflict includes WJC’s Creating Bias-Free Classrooms program, which uses improvisational theater featuring young actors from WJC’s
Acting for Social Change class at the Los Angeles High School for the Arts. The program provides a learning laboratory where educators can experiment with how best to address bias and bullying, a critical skill in California’s increasingly diverse classrooms.

ABCs of Conflict graduates are eligible to receive an LAUSD salary point with a multicultural credit or a graduate-level extension credit through the University of San Diego.

“We hope that more individual and institutional funders will take a look at the ABCs of Conflict and our companion online conflict resolution curriculum, School Tools,” said Barrett. “We have just scratched the surface of what these trainings can accomplish, and they are needed now more than ever.”

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