Teachers Changing The Human Narrative

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During the past 100 years, activists have fought for civil liberties, environmental protection, feeding and sheltering the poor, ending wars and the list continues. There is no question more important for any one person to ask about challenges they see than, “why?”. Why do we have those problems and what is the root cause? Part of the equation includes our human values which are shaped by culture. What is our culture teaching?

Jeremy Rifkin is an economic and social theorist, writer, public speaker, political advisor and activist. Today, he is advising the world it is time to write a new human narrative.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

So where does the human narrative begin and how do we help nurture the virtue of understanding?

First grade teacher, Michelle Sharabi, at PS 88 in Queens NY, is on a mission to help change that narrative and arm children with a healthy perspective. “We were having trouble with behavior, especially in the cafeteria,” said Chapter Leader Susan Stark. Michelle and colleagues were motivated to make a change and decided to seek out solutions that offer students tools for expressing themselves in a healthy and productive manner to avoid the escalation of aggression.

How can a child grow up to be an adult that creates peace among people in different cultures if from day one they never learned how to understand others and resolve issues in a healthy way? This pivot in education is critical in giving children positive values from the start.

Teachers Hope Fogarty and Gary Nolan with the mural they painted in the school’s stairwell.

Teachers Hope Fogarty and Gary Nolan with the mural they painted in the school’s stairwell.

After much research and many meetings they found that a program called, “Safe and Caring“, was a fit. The program was developed by founder, Katia Petersen, Ph.D. According to their website, “The Safe and Caring Schools Program compliments and enhances the academic training students receive at school and is based upon sound Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices that target competencies in (1) self-awareness, (2) social awareness, (3) relationship skills, and (4) responsible decision making. Activities comply with standards and are presented in a fun and exciting way that helps teachers, counselors and support staff pass on a passion for learning to their students.”

Sharabi and her colleagues raised $5,000 to bring Katia Petersen to their school to train the staff last year.

“I realized this woman has the same philosophy and vision I do,” Sharabi said. “It’s giving the students the skills and strategies to face challenges. It’s about conflict resolution, but also about respecting each other and following your dreams.”

Following the training, Petersen was in touch by phone to consult and offer guidance during the implementation of the program. “They have blown me away with their commitment to embrace it so completely,” Petersen said. “They make it jump off the page.”

Sharabi was also recently honored at the District 24 Scholarship Dinner Dance for her work in bringing Safe and Caring to life at the school. Teachers volunteered for the program committee to review what works and what doesn’t and to make suggestions for improvements. “It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” Sharabi said.

Thomas Brunhuber, fifth-grade teacher, said the change in his students has been remarkable. “There are so many cultural pressures to be tough,” he said. “This year, they have this common language to express their feelings. It’s the cool thing to be “safe and caring.” Actually, he stated that one of his students intervened between two children who were facing off and calmed the situation. “I wouldn’t have seen that last year,” Brunhuber said.

“The head custodian said he never saw the lunchroom so clean,” Nolan said.

Principal Robert Quintana stated that it was the staff’s commitment to the program that persuaded him to support it. “It’s bigger than anything I could have imagined,” he said. “They made our school a place people want to come to.”

No matter who you are, a published writer, social theorist, political advisor or first grade teacher, you can contribute not only to the lives of children but to the world as a whole. We are thankful for people like Michelle and her colleagues for what they are doing to make the world a better place.

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