U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno told educators if they want to stop school violence, they need to start in preschool and kindergarten.

“We can make a difference and stop violence in our schools if we teach our children at a young age how to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and constructive way,” Reno said. “Giving all children this foundation will have a positive impact in our communities and in society as a whole.”

Reno spoke at the North Carolina Central University School of Education Nov. 16 during a conference on conflict management and resolution sponsored by the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The conference was part of a state initiative to train educators how to reduce and prevent classroom disruption and school violence. The project, recommended by the state Task Force on Youth Violence and School Safety, is part of Gov. Jim Hunt’s goal of making North Carolina public schools the best in America by 2010.

According to research findings distributed Nov. 16, nearly three-quarters of American students feel safe or somewhat safe in school. But one in five students says he or she has been hit, slapped, or kicked by another student. One in 10 avoids places at school out of fear for their own safety.

While educators explained methods of conflict resolution, the 62-year-old Reno scribbled down notes on a pad of paper. Some of the suggestions included teaching students to:

• Use “I” statements. Instead of saying, “Jimmy, you are getting on my nerves,” the student could say, “I feel sad when you tease me.” Such statements give students ownership of their feelings and responsibility for their actions, educators said.

• Solve problems with others by looking for common ground and negotiating.

• Be tolerant and understanding of others’ differences.

“If all of these approaches were institutionalized and supported by administrators, we could diffuse the entire school culture,” said Kristen Reed, a principal fellow from the University of North Carolina who completed her student teaching at Jordan High School.

Parental involvement is also very important—and lacking, the attorney general said. American children are more alone and at risk that at any other time in history, making it hard for many of them to grow into adults with character, morals, and a conscience, she said.

Conflict resolution is a skill for life, Reno said.

“Arguing lawyers use it all the time,” she said, as others laughed. “In fact, at a school this morning, a little boy gave me a picture of an elephant and a donkey arguing.”

Before leaving, Reno thanked the group for letting her join their discussion and asked to be updated regularly.

“You, as educators have this incredible opportunity to change and touch lives,” she said. “But, along with that comes this responsibility to guide our children to make positive choices and solve problems without violence. Thank you for serving our country in this wonderful way.”

Reprinted with permission from the Durham Herald-Sun, Nov. 17, 2000.