"It's comical at first when you see a third-grader yank a ball out of someone's hand and another kid comes along and says, 'Hey, let's de-escalate that,'" says Richard Cardillo, New York regional director of Peace Games. But thanks to his organization--which teaches conflict resolution and diversity awareness to students in grades K-8 at schools in New York City, Chicago, the Boston and Los Angeles metro areas, and Fairbanks, Alaska--fights that might otherwise turn ugly are indeed "de-escalated." Instead of beating each other up or hurling hurtful slurs, kids learn to work out their differences without resorting to violence.
"What Peace Games wants to do is give these kids a tool belt to be an active peacemaker--making your voice heard for what's right," says Cardillo, who is gay. "So often in our society, when we talk about kids we talk about them in two different roles: either the victims or perpetrators. What Peace Games does is say, no, they can be the change agents in our society for good."
A response to escalating youth violence in the early 1990s, Peace Games was conceived by children's literature scholar Francelia Butler as a one-day festival in Boston. A fifth-grade curriculum was soon developed at Harvard University's Phillips Brooks House Association, and from there it expanded by grade level and around the country.
At schools that use Peace Games, students participate in weekly one-hour classes, the first semester devoted to lessons, and the second to a community service project. The sessions are led by college-age volunteers or Peace Games regional staffers such as Cardillo, who teaches a fourth-grade class at New York City's P.S. 87.
Topics include tolerance of LGBT individuals and appreciation of diversity, with lesson titles like "I Am Special Because I'm Different," "Inclusion/Exclusion," and "Celebrating Differences." "We deal with certain situations, like someone being made fun of because they're gay," says Cardillo. "We look at gender. What does it mean to be a woman? A gay woman? How do you fit that image? And stereotyping."
Cardillo, 48, joined Peace Games in October 2005 after stints as a teacher and as director of client services for the New York City organization God's Love We Deliver, which provides meals to people living with AIDS and other serious illnesses. I meet him one day outside Manhattan's P.S. 191 on the Upper West Side, one of the city's most ethnically mixed public schools. …