Nonviolence integrated into school's daily lessons; Forbush's Peace Plan attracts national interest


At the public high school he used to attend in Harford County, Garry Lee was attacked and viciously pummeled by four boys.

Now, as a student at the Forbush School in Towson -- an institution for students with behavioral problems -- Garry feels far safer than he did.

Thanks in part to a new curriculum teaching nonviolence and kindness, students such as Garry feel sheltered at the school, on the wooded grounds of Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital.

"I have a lot of friends and not many enemies," said Garry, a 19-year-old student. The Peace Plan is unusual among school safety programs initiated after campus killings such as the ones at Littleton, Colo., and Springfield, Ore., in that it is incorporated into students' daily classwork.

The program is especially appropriate for Forbush's students, who range in age from 4 to 21 and have histories of mood swings, temper tantrums and disciplinary problems. Such young people are more prone to violent outbursts, according to a checklist of indicators developed by the National School Safety Center.

"We are trying to change the culture of the school so that we're all responsible for each other," said Burton H. Lohnes, director of education at Forbush, which was founded in 1968 and is taxpayer-funded. "It's not just teachers being responsible for students, but students being responsible for students."

Last month, Forbush students and staff members began the program with a "people encouraging peace" (PEP) rally with cheerleaders, posters and T-shirts that read: "Watch hate and violence go while peace and love grow."

Special education schools nationwide have expressed interest in Forbush's program, Lohnes said.

Students at Forbush were eager to implement the Peace Plan, said Gail H. Rosenberg, a psychologist who worked with a team of staff members during the summer to set it up.

"A lot of [students] told us that it was about time we did this," she said. "Most of them want to get along. They don't like aggressive behavior or drug talk."

Rosenberg is confident that Forbush's 220 students will be able to learn the survival skills presented by the Peace Plan, which teaches mutual support, peer mediation and ways to deal with anger.

Student Holly Hill, 17, is a peer mediator who takes her role in the Peace Plan's success seriously. "We are trying to get the whole school to stop the violence," she said.

Students also are involved in the Peace Plan. In Cheryl Buleza's classroom of 9- through 11-year-olds, she uses dominoes to illustrate how a shove on the playground can set off a chain of negative events, including a trip to the hospital and a fight.

"You see, one thing caused all the other things to happen, and it just got bigger and bigger ," Buleza said.

Her students -- Michael Gortt, 9; Giovanni Cocco, 10; Kenneth Epkins, 11; and Justin Lee, 11 -- work together to define "victim" as a person who is hurt by someone on purpose. They team up to identify examples of physical and verbal violence.

During the lesson, Kenneth offered this advice on stopping aggressive behavior, including bullying or shoving: "You can tell someone like a teacher, and they can help to stop the violence."

Buleza's lessons seem to be sinking in. Some of the children have used what they've learned in the classroom to respond nonviolently way to aggression outside the classroom, she said.

"They recognize that they can use these skills on the bus and in their neighborhoods," Buleza said. "And our kids are out on some pretty violent streets after school."

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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