Forest Whitaker at middle school
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Teaching Kids an 'Essential Life Skill': Conflict Resolution


CSU Dominguez Hills partners with actor and activist Forest Whitaker to help middle-schoolers learn how to solve problems peacefully.

Forest Whitaker at middle school

CSU Dominguez Hills and the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) promote conflict resolution education at Andrew Carnegie Middle School. Photo courtesy of CSU Dominguez Hills


California State University, Dominguez Hills has partnered with the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), an international non-profit organization founded by Forest Whitaker, the Academy Award-winning actor and social activist, to implement conflict resolution education in middle schools.

A three-year pilot program was launched on September 6 at
Andrew Carnegie Middle School, in Carson, California, as part of WPDI's Domestic Harmonizer Program, which combines conflict resolution education with Common Core subjects like math, science, social studies and English.

For example, students can explore how mediation might have been used as a way to resolve a conflict in history.

The pilot program will serve as a model for expansion to other schools in Los Angeles and across the nation.

Solutions to Problems Big and Small

To me, conflict resolution is an essential life skill that is best learned during the formative middle school years," said Whitaker in an interview with CSU Dominguez Hills. "Finding solutions to our problems—however big or small—is something that isn't always taught in school as part of the traditional curriculum, but it is one of the most important subjects."

Every grade in the program will have a different focus. Sixth-graders will learn general conflict resolution, while seventh-graders will explore peer mediation, in which students learn how to solve problems between themselves, often in a private setting with the help of a trained student mediator. Eighth-graders will build upon those skills and learn about restorative justice, the idea that someone who does wrong should be held accountable to those whom they've harmed and should repair the harm they've done.

The goal of the
Domestic Harmonizer Program is to create and foster a positive learning environment by training students and educators in techniques of conflict prevention and management, as well as providing life coaching and youth empowerment. The hope is to create a peaceable school climate and lessen issues like youth violence and bullying.

The program seeks to invoke "attitudes, values and behavioral changes among the students," said Heather Kertyzia, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the negotiation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding program and the College of Education at CSU Dominguez Hills, in an interview with
CSU Dominguez Hills.

"Our hope is that students learn peer mediation and restorative justice concepts, that they'll start to apply that at the school and in their daily lives to resolve their own conflicts."

Learn more about the Domestic Harmonizer Program.

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