At one school, the fourth 'R' is respect

Posted December 6, 2009 9:57 a.m. EST

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, visits a Brooklyn school where respect is taught alongside the three R's of education.

Teachers say conflict resolution is a basic need at Primary School 24, attended by kindergartners through fifth graders in an underprivileged neighborhood.

"I grew up in the neighborhood, and I know that the issues the children are dealing with are real issues," teacher Sherley Guerrero said.

Twice a week, Emma Gonzales, with the nonprofit Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, comes to teach conflict-resolution skills. Older children learn to be conflict mediators, while younger ones become "peace helpers."

Gonzales gives them real-world lessons, such as what to do in a fight over a book. "Stand up for yourself in a respectful way," she told the children.

"I really wanted a leadership model. I wanted kids teaching other kids," Gonzales said. "Kids listen to each other and really begin to think critically about their own actions and begin to have a place where they can talk about feeling bad."

Students said they are learning about the need to control themselves.

"I'm still learning," fifth-grader Alexus said. "If I go to sixth grade next year, I need to learn to control my anger, because I have a serious temper problem."

Principal Christina Fuentes said that P.S. 24's modest investment in the program has paid big dividends.

The first major study of the 4R's approach is showing positive results, with the children at most risk making the most progress. Once labeled a failing school by the No Child Left Behind law standards, P.S. 24 has started making adequate yearly progress.

"We have definitely moved," Fuentes said. "All those kinds of objective measures show that what we're doing is working."