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Middle-schoolers have zero tolerance for violence

September 23, 1998

No violenceBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: DON AINES




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Courtesy is becoming contagious among students at Chambersburg Area Middle School, thanks to a program begun last year among some sixth-graders.

"There are several seventh-grade teachers who say there are students holding doors open for them" and doing other acts of kindness, Assistant Principal Catherine Dusman said Tuesday.

Dusman said the teachers believed it was due to an antiviolence program begun last year among some sixth-grade classes. "It's filtering throughout the school," she said.

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"Quiet bunch," State Rep. Jeffrey Coy, D-Franklin, said as he watched an orderly line of 120 students head for their monthly hall meeting. He was there to observe the program before he hosts a town meeting on school violence there on Tuesday.

It was indeed a hall meeting as the students jammed into the hallway connecting their classrooms.

"How much tolerance for violence do we have?" teacher Elizabeth Thompson asked.

"Zero" said the students.

This was Team 6-2, one of six teams of sixth-graders at the school, according to Thompson. A teacher at the school for 26 years, she helped launch the program.

"I hear this team has been making a conscious effort to hold the door open for students and teachers," teacher Lisa Byers said to the group.

"I get a sense that you are really starting to care about each other," Thompson told them.

"It's just things we believe are beneficial to reduce conflicts," Thompson said after the meeting.

Along with opening doors, the program includes teaching respect for others and helping resolve conflicts by understanding each other's feelings.

That includes "I messages," Thompson said. When students are involved in a conflict, they are taught to begin explanations with "I" rather than by blaming the other person.

"It's better when you start with how you feel," Thompson said. By explaining one's own feelings first, the other person is not put on the defensive, she said.

Although the program is relatively new and doesn't have a name, Dusman said no students from Team 6-2 have been sent to the office for fighting this year. She said a few students from other classes have been sent to the office after shoving matches.

Thompson said the school's mix of cultures and people is new for many of the sixth-graders, who came there from their neighborhood elementary schools.

She said the program can help prevent students with borderline discipline problems from going over the edge.

Shannon Myers, 11, noted one benefit all the students enjoy.

"There are no fights at recess anymore," he said.

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