by Janaya Andrews
It is a tough third period English class; there is loud bantering, students jumping out of their seats. Sitting quietly in the back, Rhonda Jones stands up and walks around the room calmly. She puts an arm over the shoulder of a particularly irate 9-grader, who is disrupting the class.
“What’s bothering you today and how can I help?” she says. She sounds stern, but her gentle spirit somehow calms the student and redirects his focus to academics.
Jones is a Peacemaker, one of seven at McClymonds High School this year. The program, new to McClymonds, focuses primarily on the needs of 30 students who are on probation, helping them adjust, monitoring their ups and downs, monitoring attendance, assisting them as mentors and providing academic support. The program also has an impact on school culture. The group includes Jones, John Ivy, coach Michael Peters, Hank Roberts and Keith Walters, site manager. It is funded through a grant by Alameda County Probation Department.
“They’re supposed to bring extra support for our neediest kids,” said assistant principal Dinora Castro. “They’re still in the process of structuring and organizing. It’s still a new program.”
“We put kids first,” said Walters about the program. “The reason we wanted to come here is because there was a high number of students on probation who need mentoring in school and after school mentoring and enrichment.”
Peacemakers also provides support in the classroom, crowd control and academic support. “We respond to the students in a calm professional, enlightening, proactive manner,” he said.
Students have noticed the impact of Peacemakers. “Some like the fact that they’re there. Those who don’t enjoy acting out,” said Carliss Le Roy, curriculum adviser. “I guess people are more quiet,” said senior Ibraheem Muhammad. “In rowdy classes, you need to be on your best behavior.”
Behavior changes do occur, said Peacemakers’ Hank Roberts. He repeats what he says to students with whom he works. “I say simply, ‘This is where the change begins.'”