By Dakota Damschroder
Raised voices and strained silences. Pronounced frowns and angry words. These actions, typically associated with conflict, are steadily falling to the wayside in the library at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC).
Emerson students huddle on the floor with elementary students, playing cooperative games and instilling in them the best ways to negotiate conflict. As a part of their coursework for Conflict and Negotiation, four Emerson students opted to complete a service learning project: teaching a Peacemakers course at the Red Oak After School program run out of the Josiah Quincy Elementary School (JQS) in Chinatown.
“We provide academic, social, and emotional support for students,” said Program Director Tasha Chu. “We want to create a safe and engaging learning environment in which our students can grow.”
Red Oak provides year-round after school child care for up to 160 children, ranging in age from five to thirteen, in a multicultural and bilingual environment. Students in the program can do their homework, find tutors, or enroll in programs such as the Peacemakers class. This program, product of a partnership between BCNC and JQS, has improved student success, while promoting the healthy development of children and families.
The Office of Service Learning and Community Action worked with Chu, the course’s professor, Israela Brill-Cass, and a local conflict management consultant, to develop a training geared specifically for this partnership. The trained Emerson student-teachers then worked with Red Oak group leaders to create a curriculum for a class of twenty fourth- and fifth-graders.
“The students who are a part of the Peacemakers program can actually take what we do in class and teach it to an age-appropriate audience,” said Brill-Cass.
Before being able to share lessons, Emerson students first needed to learn their own class material. Conflict and Negotiation, an interdisciplinary course, helps students develop their abilities to manage conflicts, communicate effectively, and become more confident when doing so. The class allows students to learn the ways to deal with conflict, how to negotiate with others when conflict arises, and how to reconcile after a conflict.
“I always thought that to be a good negotiator, you had to be mean, manipulative, or a liar,” said junior Maureen Corbett. “I learned that you just have to know good technique and have confidence in your ability.”
“I think of conflict skills like writing skills,” said Brill-Cass. “People aren’t necessarily going to become conflict managers, but they’re skills that will enhance everything else you do.”
Emerson students said that teaching in the Red Oak program helped them understand why conflict is prevalent in a multicultural society.
“It’s clear to me that everyone confronts conflict in different ways, depending on their culture and personality,” continued Corbett. “All our students interact and react differently to the games we play and the questions we ask.”
SLCA Director Suzanne Hinton said that students have been working with Boston youngsters for over ten years through this service learning course. While the course partnership with Red Oak is in only its third iteration, it is proving to be successful, she said, “for the Emerson students who are able to connect with neighborhood children and reinforce their education through teaching, for the Red Oak students who are learning new ways of acting and interacting with peace as a goal, and for the longstanding Emerson-BCNC partnership.”
“I love that we get to work with organizations like Emerson,” said Chu. “We give to the community and the community gives back to us.”