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DU Students Bring Peaceful Schools Program to Local Community

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Nicole Gordon

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At an elementary school in Denver’s Ruby Hill neighborhood, several DU students are helping schoolchildren build positive social skills that counteract bullying behaviors. Both groups of students — the little kids and the big kids — are having a lot of fun in the process — with stories, songs and laughter.

“The most effective way to empower a generation is to start with the youth,” says Natasha Hamilton, a sophomore molecular biology and chemistry major. “If we want to change the world into a kinder and more respectful place, we need to start teaching our kids to do the right thing.”

DU students Natasha Hamilton and Cate Daniels. Photo courtesy: Nicole Gordon.
DU students Natasha Hamilton and Cate Daniels. Photo courtesy: Nicole Gordon.

It all started when Hamilton attended a 2016 folk concert by Peter, Paul and Mary in Colorado Springs. The musicians highlighted the growing need for an atmosphere of respect and inclusiveness in our schools and followed with a call for volunteers for Peaceful Schools. The Peaceful Schools program, developed by Rotary District 5450 in conjunction with band member Peter Yarrow, his foundation Operation Respect and numerous educators, seeks to create safe and respectful school environments.

Hamilton, who is chair of community outreach for DU's Excelling Leaders Institute, thought that Peaceful Schools would be the perfect fit for DU students searching for ways to impact the Denver community one classroom at a time. She recruited volunteers from among her peers and reached out to the Rotary Club of Denver Southeast, whose members provided logistical help. Soon, she and about 10 fellow students found themselves paying monthly visits to Strive PREP Ruby Hill as Peaceful Schools ambassadors.

Located in a low-income neighborhood a short drive from campus, Strive PREP Ruby Hill is a public charter school. The majority of its students qualify for free and reduced lunches and are English language learners.

It’s the first time that Ruby Hill students have been exposed to Peaceful Schools, which features a social-emotional curriculum designed to alter attitudes and behaviors that lead to ridicule, bullying and violence. The program differs from other anti-bullying efforts in that it focuses on highlighting positive behaviors rather than emphasizing negative actions, which unintentionally reinforces the behaviors that such programs seek to reduce.

“Colorado has suffered too many tragedies directly linked to the consequences of bullying,” says Carole Baumbusch, a Rotarian overseeing Peaceful Schools partnerships throughout the city. “The Peaceful Schools program was developed to help schools create and maintain safe, respectful and productive environments for our children.”

Peaceful Schools

Since its inception in 2014, Peaceful Schools has expanded to more than 20 schools in the Denver area. DU is the first university to partner with Rotary to implement the program.

“It's really beneficial to have college students visit,” says Alyssa Marks, site social work director at Ruby Hill. “The students get an idea of what it’s like to be in college.”

For DU volunteers, the visits to Ruby Hill are a chance to engage with local schoolchildren in a special way, instilling the Peaceful Schools values of truth, fairness, kindness and diversity.

“I've always loved working with kids, so it’s great to be a role model as a college student,” says Cate Daniels, a first-year student studying international studies and emergent digital practices. “I think it’s really important to start teaching kids at this age about emotional intelligence and how to handle what they’re feeling in a productive way.”

For more information about how to get involved with the DU Peaceful Schools team, contact Natasha Hamilton.