Seventh-graders at Lewis and Clark Middle School are studying conflict resolution this month as part of their Contemporary Issues class.
On Wednesday, the students heard a quartet of community speakers talk about how they handle conflict when it arises in their workplace.
Sara Crowe, an investigator of child abuse and neglect, said that conflict is a frequent component of her job, but one she's learned how to handle after years of experience. Not only does she face conflict with parents who don't want to see their children removed, but she also sometimes experiences conflict with her supervisor or the other agencies she engages with as she makes decisions about children's lives.
She said even adults have to appoint a facilitator and establish some boundaries - no arguing, one speaker at a time - in order for meetings to go smoothly.
"Communication is a learned skill. And you need to know the facts before you defend an idea," Crowe told the students. "But conflict is easier to resolve when everyone is working together."
Michael Bloemke talked about some of the challenges he faces as program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters. He said social media holds some of the greatest potential for prompting both good and bad behavior.
It was an idea counselor Jan Heislen reiterated. She said people find it easier to say hurtful things online. And remarks are more likely to be misinterpreted.
"The majority of conflicts I see the most stem from social media," she said. "Something happens in the evening, and it carries on to the next day at school, creating drama."
When problems arise, Heislen brings students into her office for some "one-on-one communication."
She said: "I want to know: "What you are going to do to help resolve this conflict?' And I try to get both to agree to a resolution."
If the students can't agree, the complaints go up the chain of command to the principal's office.
Saxon Scheidegger, 12, wanted to know: "What happens when a conflict is not resolved?"
Crowe said that outcome is more common than people might think. In her workplace, when that happens, the conflict is moved up to the next level of management or even to a judge for a final decision.
The unit of study is part of a longer-term project the students are working on this month. The driving question of the project is: "How can we as concerned citizens resolve group conflicts to make our society a better place?"
The project directs students to "create a solution to a real-world conflict that takes place in society."
Students will be asked to research various types of conflicts and the ways they can be overcome. Bullying, animal abuse and discipline are a few of the topics the seventh-graders are interested in.
The Contemporary Issues class, which is new to the LCMS curriculum this fall, replaces a course formerly called Reading, although students still take an English course, as well. (Some of the learning targets in the former Reading course have been shared between English and Contemporary Issues.)
Some of the skills students are expected to learn include: summarizing the text; evaluating whether sources are reliable; presenting their ideas in a clear and organized way; citing sources correctly to avoid plagiarism; and collaborating with peers.
At the end of this project, small groups of students will have to generate a written proposal, brochure, newsletter, public service announcement, club or organization plan, school improvement plan, annual event or outreach program.
"We wanted to come up with something interesting and relevant to kids in the seventh grade," said Janice DeLong, a LCMS teacher. "We want them to work on something there are passionate about, because then the learning comes easier."