A student at Northwest Academy in St. Louis reviews a Powerpoint presentation about the Peaceball project designed to promote peace and reduce violence.Photo: AFSC
By Joshua Saleem, AFSC St. Louis Peace Education Director
Can a “Peaceball” help reduce violence by encouraging acts of peace? With encouragement from AFSC, students in St. Louis are giving it a try.
In February I arrived at Northwest High School to conduct one of my weekly workshops. There had just been a fight in the halls involving one of the students that would have been in my workshop. The students were already in conversation about what happened and instead of doing what I had planned, I decided to continue the conversation.
We talked about this incident and others like it. We talked about fighting and violence as issues in their school and how it impacted or didn't impact them. I ended that day asking them if they thought they could do something about all the fights.
Some said this is just how it is. Some said they could only worry about themselves. Some thought they could actually do something, but in a limited way.
Since then we've been working on this Peaceball Project as a way to do something about this issue. One session we spent developing a mission statement, which led us to research the effects of violence in the community. The students discovered, among many things, that the African American homicide rate in Missouri is seven times the national average.
Students came up with three areas they were interested in: incarceration, dropout, and murder rates. The idea was to show the school community how violence contributes to these negative areas, specifically in the African American community.
This is how their Powerpoint presentation was developed, which explains the problem. The Peaceball Project is the "Here's what WE can do about it."
The Peaceball itself isn't an original idea. A teacher suggested it at the beginning of the school year, but it was put on the back burner for a while. I actually thought jobs and unemployment would be their focus at the beginning of the semester.
However, after the string of fights, we wanted to empower these students to do something about it. So, for every act of peace, a student receives a piece of yarn. It can be anything from encouraging another student to resolving a conflict without violence.
They hope to begin to change the culture of the school through this. They recently received approval from their principal so we're currently trying to figure out how to spread the word and get the entire school involved.