The middle school years were the worst for my children. I remember them trying hard to fit in, to be accepted by their peers.
That need to be accepted can cause middle schoolers to become either the victims of bullying or bullies themselves, mainly because of differences that are not appreciated.
Gail M. Koehler and Sarabeth Brownrobie want to give youths a means of avoiding negative confrontations and ways to learn just how much we all have in common. So they started Lexington United, a project of the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice.
This week, more than a dozen middle school youths have gathered at The Plantory for the Youth United Summer Leadership Camp. Through games and fun activities, they'll learned how to resolve potential conflicts and how to discover the characteristics and traits people have in common.
The camp, hosted by Lexington United, trained the youth in games such as Alien Slime, Clip-It, Shrinking Island and Do You Love Your Neighbor?
In Do You Love Your Neighbor?, a student stands surrounded in a circle by the other students who are seated. The standing person walks over to another student, asking if he or she loves his or her neighbor. The answer could be yes, but with a qualifier such as "but only those who wear blue jeans." Then everybody in the circle who is wearing jeans must quickly move to a new seat before the person in the middle takes his or her spot.
"It gets everybody up and moving," Koehler said. "The goal is to involve everyone and learn (that) people share things (in common) with others."
For five years, Koehler edited Peaceways, the newsletter for Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit organization comprised of peacemaking groups and people. But she wanted to do something to advance peace education opportunities in Lexington.
She and Brownrobie trained at the Peace Education Program in Louisville, which was begun more than 30 years ago to combat youth violence in school. Now they are certified to train youth, and to encourage them to train their peers.
"We didn't see another group quite doing it," Koehler said. "If there is, we'd love to partner with them."
Helping out this week at the camp are participants from the East Seventh Street Center who have graduated from the training.
The hope, Koehler said, is to get the program into the schools. She said she hopes the youth this summer will have so much fun learning how to build community that they will spread the word at school, and the program will be invited in.
Schools that implement peer mediation techniques experience a reduction in absenteeism, suspensions and expulsions, she said.
Through game-playing, youths can learn new ways to interact with their peers and discover new ways to resolve conflict through cooperation and communication. The youths are challenged physically and intellectually to build teams and mutual respect.
Until she can start trainings in the schools, however, Koehler plans to host another camp at spring break and maybe some mini-camps at various times in the year.
Before receiving their graduation certificates and a stipend, the campers must show what they've learned.
That's where we come in.
On Friday, the campers will host "Lexington Wins! Community Games Night," at the Seventh Street Center. They want all of us to come, young and old, to play the cooperative games and learn more about one another.
"We hope to expand this to have game nights four times a year," Koehler said, "one every quarter."
With a little help, this program could be an example of adults learning from our children.
IF YOU GO
Lexington Wins! Community Games Night
When: Starts at 4:30 p.m. June 21.
Where: East Seventh Street Center, 240 East Seventh St.
Information: Call (859) 474-0487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.