SMU: conflict resolution conference for elementary schools

Student, Emily Anderson, helps organize Conflict Resolution Conference

Emily Anderson (bottom right) with elementary students at the SMU conflict resolution conference Photo: Vanessa Chagljevich

Saint Mary's University student, Emily Anderson, is taking part in the Northern Ireland Conflict Resolution Project for her third year in a row, as a master's student in International Development Studies. 

As an ongoing project, in its eighth year, SMU is sending a fresh group of their students to Belfast in an effort to teach local school children conflict resolution strategies.

It is easy to recognize that Anderson is a good choice to have taken part in the program.  Her disposition from first interaction comes across as calm, as she has a quiet voice, and comes across as very insightful when speaking about the various conflicts that happen among children at school. She also has an excitement in her voice as she talks about working with young students.

Anderson explains that most schools try to teach conflict resolution in the classroom, but school-aged kids generally will not listen to teachers the way they listen to young adults.

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Emily Anderson, (SMU Conflict Resolution Student Co-ordinator) and Bridget Brownlow, (SMU Conflict Resolution Advisor) Photo: Vanessa Chagljevich

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Students from St. Mary's Elementary (Grades 5 and 6) talk about the activities they did and what they learned at the SMU conflict resolution conference

"We start out with a general discussion about conflict, what the children's level of understanding of what conflict is, and whether conflict can be good or bad, or should it be both," She explains.

Anderson is playing an integral role as student co-coordinator to make sure the 14 students (including herself) who have been chosen to travel to Ireland are well prepared to pass on knowledge of how to carry out peaceful conflict resolution.

She also is in charge of making sure enough fundraising events happen leading up to their trip, to ensure that each student is able to pay their own approx. $2200 expense.  On Feb. 1, SMU will be holding a Conflict Resolution Society's Dinner called Peace by Piece to help raise the funds needed.

SMU students involved with the project have extended their efforts to work with local schools in recent years. Because of the positive feedback from students and teachers, this year SMU students are working with two new schools, for a total of five schools:

While some schools may require attention to conflict resolution for more aggressive behaviour, Anderson insists that all students can benefit from the workshops she and team members provide to the schools.

The workshops that the society puts together address issues that all elementary students are likely to face, whether they live in Halifax or Belfast.

"I think bullying happens at any level," Anderson states about student conflicts.

This year, SMU invited the two newest schools involved in the project, St. Mary's Elementary School and Inglis Street School to the university campus to take part in a conflict resolution conference.

The conference is particularly important because the elementary students from the two schools, Grades 5 and 6, are able to interact with each other in prepared activities that help them learn the importance of empathy towards their peers and effective communication skills.

Anderson explains that many students have expressed their enjoyment taking part in the workshop, because they feel that they have made new friends by the end of conference day.

She says about the conference, "we have done empathy twice now because we feel it is such an important theme in conflict resolution.  The children respond well, because in many of the activities we encourage them to put themselves in someone else's shoes or see how they would feel if that was being done to them. It is a simple but important and powerful message to use."

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