For the past eight years, Peace Games (PG) has worked to change children’s ideas and beliefs about violence. PG operates under the premise that violence is a learned behavior and so the principles of peace can also be learned.
In 1992, Dr. Francelia Butler, a children’s literature professor at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, brought PG to the Phillips Brooks House Association, Harvard University’s community service program. For three years before coming to Harvard, PG existed as an annual festival that united hundreds of Connecticut children to share their visions for peace. For four years as a student-run program at Harvard, volunteers directed the program and expanded its services annually.
Propelled by rapid growth and the increased involvement of college volunteers from universities in addition to Harvard, PG was incorporated in 1996 with seed money from the Echoing Green Foundation and Youth Service America to serve as a national model for combining community service and violence prevention. What began as a one-day event involving a few hundred elementary schools students is now a year-round program that includes 3,500 elementary and middle school students, 230 college volunteers, 250 school staff and hundreds of parents in making Boston-area schools safe.
With the use of an experiential curriculum written for each grade level, PG aims to build the skills needed to change the way children think about and act in violent-potential situations. Through games, role-playing and community service projects, PG challenges the leaders of tomorrow to become the peacemakers of today. In addition, the curricula have been designed to match statewide school standards. Lesson extenders, which complement the curricula, are distributed to the teachers each week. The extenders can be incorporated into English, history and art.
Realizing that families are crucial to building safer school communities, PG also works to extend lessons in the home. PG offers training workshops and special event nights to acquaint families with the same lessons their children are learning during the weekdays. In addition, children are given family and community connections homework pages, which offer activities that reinforce the program.
PG’s foundation is built upon relationships. Relationships cultivated between young adults and students are a key factor to success. It provides college students the opportunity to become involved in the community beyond their campuses. A considerable number of past volunteers have even changed their majors to education after realizing how significant PG is to them and their students.