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ND students mentor community

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, January 16, 2008

As violence in schools continues to trouble the American education system, Notre Dame students are visiting South Bend area schools to teach healthy conflict resolution through the Robinson Learning Center.

The center runs the Take Ten program, a program geared toward preventing violence in South Bend and Mishawaka schools. Its mantra is “Talk it out, walk it out, wait it out,” and the curriculum encourages students from kindergarten to high school to “take ten deep breaths before you say something that hurts; take ten steps back before getting involved in a fight; and take ten seconds before using something as a weapon.”

The program – which was first a subset of the Center for Social Concerns, and later part of Robinson Learning Center – receives significant support from the Notre Dame community.

“We have had a lot of really enthusiastic responses from the University, especially from the professors that let me recruit in their classes,” said Ellen Kyes, a Take Ten project coordinator.

She builds her staff largely with Notre Dame volunteers, and is supported by professors of all different fields.

“I have professors from even the business school that let me recruit,” Kyes said.

Although Take Ten uses volunteers from other local schools, including IUSB, Holy Cross and Bethel, most of the volunteers are Notre Dame students partly because of the program’s origins, but also because “there is a high level of commitment to community service on campus,” Kyes said.

“We tend to get a lot of college students from here who are interested in serving the community, and working for peace,” she said.

The program requires the student volunteers to visit various area schools weekly. At the high school level, the curriculum is mostly in the form of discussion, role-play and games, while at the elementary level, the students engage the children by reading together. The curriculum, however, changes according to the needs of the students, Kyes said.

“One of the things about Take Ten that we stress to the volunteers is that it is flexible,” she said. “The students have creativity, and they can put some of their own input into the curriculum.”

At the end of the program, the volunteers evaluate the students’ growth and receive input from the teachers.

“The way the curriculum works, we have an evaluation process in place. We give a pre- and post-test to see if the kids are actually learning what we teach them,” Kyes said. “Our research shows that we are making some changes in their minds, and the teachers think that the climate is better because of the program.”

Kyes also believes that the Notre Dame volunteers get as much out of the program as the students do.

“One of the side effects that comes out of Take Ten is that a lot of the college students end up forming mentorships with the kids. They build a relationship with a child,” Kyes said.

She referred to a story about a group of Saint Mary’s students who formed a pen pal relationship and wrote back and forth throughout the year. At the end of the school year, the former volunteers invited the students to campus for a picnic.

“These kids thought they would be on a two-hour bus ride. They live less than five miles away, and they had no idea,” Kyes said. “A lot of these kids don’t see college as a possible thing in their life. When they get to know a real live college student, it really broadens their horizon. That’s when I thought, what a difference we can make to these kids.”