Lead Peace is a county-school-community service-learning project that is changing lives of students in several Minneapolis schools. It engages students in creative, experiential ways and gives them opportunities to practice interpersonal skills, cooperative peer behavior and a host of other leadership abilities. Lead Peace combines curriculum from Points of Youth Leadership Institute, Peace Jam, and other anti-bullying lessons. Lead Peace youth, who are in sixth through eighth grade, meet in small groups and, with the help of a facilitator, collaborate on ways to help and bring peace their community. The facilitators consist of a group of caring adults who value and respect all students, have high expectations and communicate them consistently. Projects, in Lead Peace, are youth driven and help students build a sense of connection to each other and their communities. Past activities include:
The effort began seven years ago as a part of the Safe Schools/Healthy Initiative and united staff and students from Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Public Schools, University of Minnesota and the Kwanzaa Church. According to Pam Russ of the county’s Human Services and Public Health Department, Lead Peace help increase school connectedness, foster community involvement
“My vision of the county has always been one of really entrenched bureaucracy,” said Ed Irwin of Kwanzaa Church. But then he met Hennepin staff from The Village, a county social service office located in the Northside – an area known for high poverty rates and crime – who signed on to partner on Lead Peace.
“Well, I got blown away when I began working with county officials and county staff,” Irwin said. Hennepin staff came into the project “without their own agenda” and asked what they could to do help – and from that attitude, this collaboration has flourished.
Since service-learning, in general, has shown promising results in increasing assets and preventing risk behaviors among young people, it is not surprising that University of Minnesota researchers have found that Lead Peace students have developed stronger interpersonal skills and felt stronger attachment to school and peers than a comparison group of students. University researcher Michael Resnick said Lead Peace has his enthusiastic endorsement. “We’ve tracked over 280 young people who have been participants in Lead Peace. We tried to answer the question ‘What is the impact of this hands-on opportunity to learn and make a difference?’” The answer is dramatic: youth are more connected to school. When they are more connected to school, they are more ready to learn and less likely to participate in risk-taking behaviors. Lead Peace youth were also more connected to peers, identifying and demonstrating more empathy and compassion for other kids.
“Well, I got blown away when I began working with county officials and county staff.”
-- Ed Irwin, Kwanzaa Church
See a video clip of the presentation at the Aug. 3 County Board meeting.
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