By MEGAN STROUP
Last Tuesday, Russell Boulevard Elementary staff trained 38 students to be RAPPers.
These RAPPers didn’t learn to spit rhymes, beat box or produce albums. Instead, the children were trained to be conflict mediators for their peers in the upcoming year.
The RAPP program — Russell Answers Problems Peacefully — started at Russell Boulevard in 1991. Bonnie Conley, a co-coordinator of RAPP, said the idea came from another school district’s conflict mediation program.
“The program started with just sit-down mediations,” Conley said in an e-mail. “We wanted the students to be more actively involved on a weekly basis and set up a recess schedule where they are out with younger classes being proactive (teaching games) and watching for problems they can talk out ‘on the spot.’ “
Conley said the school has also participated in larger awareness activities and community service projects through RAPP, such as making a quilt for peace one year.
Lisa Fortner, Russell Boulevard Elementary counselor and co-coordinator of RAPP, said students may apply to be a RAPPer beginning in third grade for the next school year. The application asks students about their reasons for applying, their experience solving problems between friends and the importance of keeping secrets in mediations. Teachers are then asked to provide feedback on the student applicants.
“We always like to have a diverse group, not just the ‘straight A’ students but a menagerie of students that represent Russell,” Conley said. “The skills that are built are beneficial to all.”
Fortner said the majority of students who apply do so because they want to help kids.
That’s one reason fourth-grader Aidan Patterson applied to the program.
“I think it’s fun, because it helps kids get to know and act the right way,” Aidan said. “If kids act the right way, it makes a better school.”
Aidan said he plans to continue with the program next year.
Gretchen Cone, a fifth-grade RAPPer, said she applied because she likes working with younger kids and she had some experience in mediation.
“A lot of times when me and my brother are fighting, I fix it,” Gretchen said. “So I thought I would be good at this.”
Gretchen said she did one mediation this year with her RAPP partner. They listened to the students’ problem and allowed both to share their side of the story.
“In the end, we help them figure out what they want to do to fix it,” Gretchen said. “I think we resolved it. We gave them a solution, and they didn’t come back, so I think it was fixed.”
Aidan said he has never had to mediate an argument as a RAPPer, but he does help the younger students at recess.
“Some kids don’t have anything to do, so we help them find a friend to play with,” Aidan explained. He said two to three RAPPers are on duty at one recess, and they have a book of games and tub of supplies to keep the students entertained.
Aidan’s favorite game is the bean-bag toss, which he remembers playing with the RAPPers when he was younger.
Gretchen said the RAPPers learn games to teach the children at mandatory monthly RAPP meetings after school.
While on duty at recess, the RAPPers wear T-shirts with a picture of the school mascot, a raven, and the phrase, “We’re ‘raven’ about peace!”
Including the 38 newly trained students and returning RAPPers such as Aidan, Fortner estimates there will be close to 50 RAPPers next year. This is a big jump for the program, which Fortner said usually has about 20 students.
This is Conley’s last year coordinating the program. As a districtwide resource special education teacher, she was housed at Russell but will move to a new location next year. Fortner said some of the Russell teachers will step in to help out the program in Conley’s absence.