By Van Bensett, Project Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 773.663.7597
LD started its Peer Mentor Program at Faraday Elementary School through unexpected circumstances. On March 18th, LD was poised to begin its Peer Motivation Program at Marshall High School, but the school was hit with a “double whammy.” Chicago Public Schools determined that it would have to administer the federally mandated Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Test, adding a new layer of testing to a complex system of tests already mandated by CPS, the State of Illinois, and college admissions.
On March 13th, I went to Marshall to meet with teachers to select students for the program. Instead, at the entrance stood a crowd of television cameras, news reporters, police, school security and students. The media needed to film reactions to the sports brawl and suspensions at both schools. School security stood at the doorway. No media or visitors without a prior appointment approved by the principal would be admitted. The mayoral campaign was in full swing. The school was in crisis control. When I met with the principal it was clear that LD would not be able to do Peer Motivation that semester. “Testing is our priority. Call us in June; Freshman Connections could be a possibility.”
With this in mind, I scheduled a meeting with the dean of students at an elementary school located directly behind Marshall. We agreed to a partnership. On April 15th Life Directions initiated groups with 8th graders at Faraday Elementary School. Three adult mentors helped to facilitate three groups with twenty-nine students. We used Focolare cubes at the beginning of each group activity to select a positive value to live that day, especially during group interactions.
Our first discovery was that 8th graders prefer the Company Cube over the Cube of Peace. This was interesting in itself since the Cube of Peace was developed especially for elementary school classrooms:
“The Cube of Peace systematically teaches students and adults to focus on the positive: to respect differences, overcome difficulties and solve problems. Those who use the Cube build a sense of community within their educational setting that increases self-esteem and respect for others who are different from them. Incidents of bullying and behavior problems decrease, and students become more mindful and reflective of their behavior. It fosters an environment that maximizes learning and helps students become co-builders of peace.”
For the 8th graders at Faraday it felt a little contrived. Anti-bullying language is part of the discipline code, special non-academic programs, and hallway “advertising.” So when the Cube was rolled to “Treat each person with respect” our classroom comedian rose to the occasion. Using his best “Euro-American therapist’s voice” he parroted the “right” response. “We need to respect ourselves then we will know how to respect others.” His classmates giggled. His answer was intended for the adults in the room, not for himself or his peers.
The next week I had an inspiration. I had been studying the Company Cube for a presentation to adults as a “new way of doing business.” The light bulb went off. What if I used the Company Cube with the 8th graders? Many were already interested in applying for “apprenticeships” with After School Matters. Others had been part of sports teams. Some were even interested in being entrepreneurs. The Company Cube may have been developed to ignite the “new small business revolution,” but I could see it working equally as well with middle and high school students.
At the beginning of the next session I introduced the Company Cube. “I know you are interested in jobs. I also know that many of you have already learned to be team players. So I brought something new for today. It’s the Company Cube, designed by a businessman and used by companies that desire excellence in persons for the good of all. If each person can fulfil his or her potential the results ripple into the wider world, interweaving interpersonal relationships that “see” the good in everyone. Its six values are simple. If you practice them they will help you to find a job and keep a job. The key values are (1) BUILD relationships every day (2) SHARE expertise, time, yourself (3) FIRST to help others (4) SUPPORT with actions, not just words (5) VALUE every person, every idea and (6) COMPETITORS can be friends too.”
Before the groups started, a student would roll the Company Cube. Another volunteered to read from the worksheet. In turn, facilitators encouraged their students to live it in the present moment, and challenged those not keeping the value in their interactions. Repetition and examples helped to teach the values. When one group rolled “FIRST to help others” and reported back “Some of us might not have jobs this summer. But each of us can be the ‘FIRST to help others.’ So our group named two people we could help and how we could help them” I knew we were on to something. The groups were listening and answering for themselves!
On the last day of our program, Paulina Sennett of Ideal Safety Communications, an Economy of Communion company joined us. She shared how the Cube had helped her company and made a presentation on the importance of job safety for teens. Her experiences gave life to the discussion. Near the end of our time together, Paulina asked, “What can you do to make sure you are never fired from your job?”
“Be on time”
“Do what you’re told!” they said in rapid succession.
In the back of the room, ever so slowly, one of Chicago’s best basketball prospects raised his hand. “We can start our own businesses” he said softly, not quite sure of his answer.
Paulina beamed, “You’re exactly right!” Now it was his turn to beam so pleased to have the right answer be his.
 The Cube of Peace: A Teaching Tool that Reduces Bullying and Promotes Unity, p. 3.
 The Company Cube: The New Small Business Revolution (2013) pp. 3-4.