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WSU students bring peace studies curricula to Hamtramck school

Date: 12/8/2017

'Conflict' has become an increasingly common word as of late. Current events fuel disagreements over ideals across the country on a near daily basis. Polarization has become the new normal. In such a climate, it can be easy to overlook conflict in the community. Two Wayne State University students refuse to do so. 

Gaia Klotz and Christiana Castillo have created a peace program at Dickinson East Elementary School in collaboration with the Hamtramck Odyssey Program for Excellence (HOPE). The students' program, titled the Peace Culture project, aims to teach kids about conflict and implement curricula that fosters peace. "There are many kids in the program that are dealing with trauma—some of them don't have the best home life. They're dealing with social and personal problems," says Castillo, who has worked for HOPE for over two years. "These feelings often get taken out on their fellow classmates."
 
Klotz was inspired to create the program after traveling to Columbia in 2017 as a representative of Wayne State’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. The trip was part of the Reverse Exchange Fellowship offered by the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative. While there, she worked with the nonprofit, Somos CaPAZes, and saw how they worked with thousands of students across diverse backgrounds, teaching them about conflict and peace studies. She immediately knew it would be an excellent model to bring back to Hamtramck. 
 
Following her return, Klotz applied for the Campus Compact Fund for Positive Engagement—a highly competitive grant worth $5000. Using this money, they were able to launch the program during the summer of 2017.
 
The program, independent from the normal curriculum of HOPE, is designed to teach students lasting conflict resolution skills. "We've broken down the curriculum into modules," Klotz explains. "The first module deals with 'peace within self', the second, 'peace with others', and finally 'peace with community.'" 

The format of the program is that of an after-school classroom setting, but some key curricula take place outside the classroom. Larger projects include the creation of a cultural garden and student-led community service.
 
Castillo and Klotz are bringing in help from other WSU students as well. Sallwa Assarawie, an English major, is creating the artwork for the curricula, which will take the form of a 25-page ‘peace passport’. Film student Nathan Keelan will create a mini-documentary that will include interviews with the students involved in the Peace Culture project. The aim of the documentary is to build and foster connections between Hamtramck, Wayne State, and the greater Detroit area.  
 
While teaching the curriculum, the project will work with Dr. Eric Montgomery, an anthropology professor and faculty member of Wayne State's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. Montgomery will act as a research consultant to assist Klotz and Castillo and help identify which demographics are most prone to conflict, and what methods are best suited to resolve it.
 
In the end, the pair are hoping to foster peace within a diverse community, while simultaneously breaking stereotypes surrounding the city. "It's important to teach kids about peace and conflict. By engaging them in these activities, we want to strengthen the community as a whole,” says Klotz.

Pictured: Christiana Castillo (left), Nathan Keelan (center), Gaia Klotz (right)

By Theron Leclerc, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Writing Assistant