Schools against violence

Schools in the Russian city of Riazan were experiencing an alarming escalation of violence and intolerance. Could something be done? 

Irina Voznesenskaya (director, Municipal Education Institution), Viacheslav Zaichikov (NGO Interregional Centre of Extra-Curricular Education) and Valentina Rokunova (psychologist) believed the answer was yes. But where could they begin?

The answer presented itself in the form of a call for participants for the Summer Academy in Poland. There they discovered the Council of Europe training manuals and were able to meet and talk with peers from Eastern Europe, Russian and the South Caucasus, and learn new methods for solving school problems. This gave them the idea of creating a network of schools dedicated to combating violence and intolerance. They call it Schools against violence.

“We returned to Riazan with new energy and better ideas which we presented at the city-wide teachers meeting in August. Six schools expressed interest in joining the project”, says Voznesenskaya.

In October, they held a schools workshop, applying the ideas and methods they had learned at the Summer Academy, including educational approaches to non–violent conflict resolution.

With the teachers and a school psychologist onboard, the next step was to involve the students.  They set up a team of mediators at each school, made up of volunteer students and teachers supported by school psychologists.

After training, each team identified their main target groups and planned activities to integrate the project into everyday school life. Some put up stands in the school yard; others wrote in the school newspaper or spoke about tolerance on school radio; others integrated mediation into their lessons. The teams organised performances, games, role plays and case studies as a way of disseminating ideas about tolerance and non-violent interaction more widely.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. At first, the teachers seemed to have little faith in their students – they couldn’t see they had anything to offer. For their part, the students felt their teachers had simply given up on intolerance. They said things like: “This won’t work”, “It is too difficult” or “Teachers are not ready for this”.

With time, however, this mutual distrust began to disappear, though it was difficult for a while. Now teachers and students speak with one voice on the subject, “It is great, it is important, it is worth doing. We can do it together.”

“Now, after I have received the basic training and gained some experience, I can successfully help the elementary school students solve the conflicts that arise among them”, says Anastasiya Mimonova, member of the school team of mediators at School #60.

Elena Kessler, Psychologist of the Municipal Education Institution “Centre of Psychological, Medical and Social Assistance to Children and Teenagers”, who supervised the project at School#6 thinks the project has made a great impact: “Those students who have been members of the teams of mediation for two years or more, tend to choose the strategies of cooperation and tolerance, and they almost never resort to competition. 

Teachers who engage in the teams of mediation, become more tolerant and respectful in relation to other teachers and students”, she says.

The initial project involved six schools, but another six have recently joined in, taking the total number of students involved to 6,464. The team from the Summer Academy believes that the project can be replicated by other schools as well and to help them do this has set up a website 

Project Team "School Against Violence" will continue to share regularly the results at the Platform«SHAREANDCONNECT» of European Wergeland Centre, as well as at the site

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