When the bell rings for recess or lunch at South-Central's Miramonte Elementary School, a handful of fourth- and fifth-graders run to the counseling office, grab clipboards, don jackets bearing the title "Conflict Manager" and head for the playground. If they spy two kids fighting, they approach and say, " Hi, I am a conflict manager. Do you want to solve this problem with us or with a teacher?"
Students serve as conflict managers at many L.A. schools, but none have so wide-ranging a program as Miramonte's. Under the tutelage of counselor Joy Macofsky, more than 2,500 students in the last seven years have learned how to listen, be neutral, elicit information and prompt arguing kids to resolve their dispute themselves. In 1987, the first year she implemented the district-guided program, Macofsky trained 350 of the school's 1,900 students, three times more than at any other school.
The children, she says, "are used to solving their problems with violence or telling an adult, who solves the problem for them. Once they get over that hurdle, it's smooth sailing all the way."
Her work has paid off, says Rich Mills, the district official who trained Macofsky: "This is one of the finest young-people-helping-each-other efforts that we have in our 400 elementary schools."
It's a boost for kids' self-esteem, too. As fifth-grade conflict manager Ivan Gonzales says: "I feel great. I can make kids who are enemies friends again."