Life isn’t always a smooth path; most of us go through periods in our lives when we need the support of others to get through. The critical pre-teen and early teenage years can be especially rough, and it is why the Navigators program Peace Education Program is focused on young men in late elementary and middle school who would benefit from mentoring and developing their conflict resolution skills.
Durk Davidson, who runs Navigators, worked for two decades in Jefferson County Public Schools as a Family Resource & Youth Services Center (FRYSC) coordinator and spent much of this time working on implementing peer mediation and conflict resolution at Olmsted Academy North. It was a natural transition after his retirement to teach Peace Ed’s curriculum to young men at nine JCPS schools.
Before COVID-19 and non-traditional instruction (NTI), Durk would visit schools each week to work with between 10-12 young men at various grade levels who had been identified by counselors, teachers, and administrators as needing special support. Some of them may have had irregular school attendance, low grades, fights, or suspensions. What they all needed, however, was a place of camaraderie, skill-building, and trust.
Navigators provide participating students with not only the support of a consistent adult presence in their lives over the course of the program, but the program gives them a clearer understanding of their emotions including what triggers their anger and the physical cues their bodies experience when they feel anger inside (such as sweating and biting one’s lips). Participants also learn the language and practice the skills of conflict resolution often by playing cooperative games. “They love those games,” Durk says. “Sometimes they’ll come up some parts that they twist and change, and I’m all for that, but I follow Peace Ed’s building blocks.”
Sometimes students come into the program hesitant, but that feeling quickly dissipates. “They form a bond with each other, and a lot of times they’ve seen me in the building,” he says. By the completion of the 20-week program, Durk says he and school staff were able to check various data points, including attendance rates, suspensions, referrals, and grades, to see if participants were having real benefits from the program (and they were!). “It has been the most powerful thing I’ve been a part of,” Durk says. “It has been so rewarding.” At the end of the program, there is always a celebration of some kind whether that be a guest speaker and pizza or a field trip.
Of course, not being able to meet in person as a result of COVID-19 has been a challenge, but Durk has worked with FRYSC coordinators to remain in contact with Navigators, whether that be sending them postcards, care packages, or making phone calls to check on them. He is hopeful that as more people become vaccinated, he can use his connections to FRYSCs and community centers to meet with students to provide a kind of bridge over the summer.