Fifth grader Larrisa Elliot has had problems in the past controlling her anger. Elliot, a student at Milton Brunson Elementary School, had trouble controlling her anger in class. Elliot became a likely candidate for a program run out of Brunson Elementary, 932 N. Central, teaching students, among other things, self awareness, as well as self control.

The Austin Peace Center helps students like Elliot deal with non-academic behavioral issues affecting them in class.

“I still have anger issues,” admits Elliot, “but working with the Peace Center has helped me understand better where the anger comes from and how to control it.”

Elliot, along with about 20 other Brunson students celebrated their first-year graduation June 8, at the center.

Students were honored with a formal graduation by POWER-PAC, a community parent organization, which started the program last September.

The Austin Peace Center is a parent and community resident-run center established to equip Brunson students with “restorative justice” tools to help them deal with daily conflicts, explained Lynn Morton, co-chair of POWER-PAC and director of the Austin Peace Center.

“‘Restorative justice’ is a concept we’ve adapted allowing us of dealing with the discipline of troubled children in a way that focuses less on punitive forms of punishment and more on giving them a way of expressing themselves and a different outlet for solving issues with individuals at school,” said Morton.

The program meets twice a week for two hours after regular classes. Students learn skills such as self-appreciation and the appreciation of others. Each student is partnered with an Adult Community Peacemaker volunteer.

The volunteers, along with Morton, teach students skills that also can be utilized at home, said Morton. Roughly 75 mothers are members of POWER-PAC, which started on the West Side three years ago. Its five city chapters include Austin, Englewood and Humboldt Park.

The Austin Peace Center began from conversations with parents and volunteers in POWER-PAC and the Austin Y Parent Network, another community parent group.

The program, Morton said, was designed to place students with behavioral problems recommended by their teachers in an environment where they could express themselves more productively.

“Students do roll playing, speaking in circles about the issues they face in class and group activities, allowing them to both experience what the teachers deal with over the course of a school day, the importance of talking problems out with those you have conflicts with and respecting the property of your peers,” Morton said. “The students have responded very well to the program and their grades and attendance bare it out.”

As a way of tracking the student’s progress, teachers are asked to rate the students weekly on a number of different areas, including grades and overall in-class behavior on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the lowest; 5 being the best.

Twenty-nine students in grades three through six participated in the program, with seven volunteers from Power-Pac and Austin Y Network. Each student has the opportunity to receive a total 25 in each rated area per week.

Melissa Moody-Shumaker, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Brunson said she could see changes in the students’ behavior after they attended the program. Shumaker has even started incorporating discussion circles in her own classes.

“The Austin Peace Center is a much needed program in this building,” she said. “I can see improvements in the grades, attitude, and behavior of my two students who are a part of the program.”

At the student’s June 8 graduation ceremony, each received certificates of participation, as well as additional certificates for academic accomplishments such as perfect attendance and most books read. Next year, the center will expand to Howe Elementary School, 720 N. Lorel.

Elliot, who was among the recipients, admitted that she still struggles with her anger. She said, however, that she is learning to work through it.

“It feels good to be able to talk out my problems with the instructor because she will listen,” Elliot said, who will attend the center again in the fall.

For more information about the Austin Peace Center call 773/577-7815