UCLA Lab School: Conflict Resolution Model Used by Elementary School

A Washington state school adopted "Safe School," which teaches students to solve differences in and out of the classroom.

At a time when bullying has become a national issue, an elementary school in Washington recently adopted a system created at UCLA Lab School to help teach students problem-solving skills.

According to an article published by The Woodinville Weekly this month, Bear Creek Elementary School in Northshore, Washington decided to use the Safe School system in its classrooms to help students establish “positive learning communities.”

The system was developed in the late 1990s at UCLA Lab School with the help of Professor Jaana Juvonen of the UCLA Psychology Department and is still used at the school today. It aims to provide students in pre-K through 6th grade with skills to de-escalate problems and to create better relationships with each other.

“What makes it different and important is that it’s not just responding to problems, it’s preventative,” said Laurie Ramirez, UCLA Lab School’s Safe School Coordinator.

Part of the Safe School system is the Cool Tools Kit, which Ramirez said is a metaphor for the strategies students are taught to help solve problems.

A kit contains a variety of items including magnets, a traffic light, toothpaste, an eraser, and a kaleidoscope. Every item is accompanied by a lesson that teaches values like responsibility, honesty, or kindness. For example, the eraser represents forgiveness and the kaleidoscope encourages students to keep an open mind when problem-solving by teaching that everybody sees situations differently.

Though the Cool Tools Kit is primarily used among younger students, the values represented in the kit are taught school-wide.

“We’re building these skills from day one with four-year-olds,” Ramirez said.

Principal Norma Silva explained that before the school implemented the Safe School system, teachers found that they were spending class time resolving problems between students.

“We had a lot of problems emerging on the playground that spilled over into the classroom,” Silva said.

Because of this, Ramirez said that one of the main goals of the system is to help students take more responsibility for resolving their own problems.

“We want children to become independent in solving these problems and be better equipped to solve problems in the future,” Ramirez said.

Though there is no data on Safe School’s results, both Ramirez and Silva said they have heard people say that their students’ ability to negotiate through problems off-campus stands out.

Ramirez believes that implementing the system school-wide, as Bear Creek has done, is the only way to get the full benefits of the system.

In addition to utilizing the system at UCLA Lab School, Silva said that the school has bridged the program between students’ classrooms and homes by involving parents in workshops and encouraging them to use Safe School vocabulary with their children. She also said that as time goes on, the system is adapting to new technology like social media.

“We’re having to change with the times while staying true to the values of Safe School,” Silva said.

Ramirez said that in addition to media literacy and body image lessons that the school started using with students in the upper grades last year, she has developed a “Sarcasm, Swearing, Rumors” unit. The school is also designing a cyber-safety curriculum to help students navigate the Internet responsibly.