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‘Peaceful Posse’


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‘Peaceful Posse’ helps students work out their problems

Evan Brandt, ebrandt@pottsmerc.com 10/20/2005

POTTSTOWN -- Middle school can be a tumultuous time, particularly for boys just enteringtheir teens and bombarded daily by images, peers and role models who resort to violence.

You don’t have to look far for examples of how it can affect students.

Violence broke out recently at Pottstown Middle School where a seventh-grade student was involved in an altercation with a teacher during a fire drill.

While officials are still not releasing any information about the Oct. 11 incident, it is certain to be a subject of discussion among the group of boys who meet weekly with Ryan Flowers.

Flowers, a 2001 graduate of Pottstown High School, is a mentor to a group of seventh- and eighth-grade boys who are called the "Peaceful Posse." Begun several years ago through Physicians for Social Responsibility and funded by a grant from Montgomery County’s Juvenile Justice program, the Peaceful Posse’s aim is "violence prevention and leadership training," said Brian Gallagher, program coordinator for the area.

"We talk about fighting, how to avoid fights and conflict resolution," seventh-grader Matthew Morgan explained during a the group’s weekly gathering Tuesday.

"Mr. Flowers tells us what to do to stop a fight and to keep other people from fighting," said Brandon Bailey, also a seventh-grader.

"We talk to him about things we might not be able to talk to our parents about," said seventh-grader Nile Frazier.

"And we talk about drugs and alcohol, and how they can make you do stuff you don’t want to do," said seventh-grader James Quill.

"There was nothing like this when I was in school. Maybe if there was, people my age might not have made some of the mistakes they did," said Flowers, who is a student at Kutztown University pursuing a math degree.

Flowers started working with youth when he himself was still young, participating in the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program. He has also worked with the Neighborhood Youth Corps Summer Program and as a summer camp counselor with the borough’s parks and recreation department.

"After working with youth there, I realized that this type of work is exactly what I want to do," said Flowers.

He was recommended for the current post as a mentor, for which he receives a small stipend, by Pottstown Middle School Principal Wayne Thomas, who had both Flowers and his mother as students.

"I like to see as many of these programs as possible in the school, to give kids a place to go where they feel they can speak openly," Thomas said. "The program came to us and asked for a recommendation, and Ryan immediately came to mind as someone who had all the right kind of positive attributes."

Although talking things out is a big part of the program -- "They all have my phone number and they can call me whenever they need to talk," said Flowers -- there’s more to it. He has taken the group to a leadership and confidence building course called The Adventure Network. There, they conducted confidence-building and teamwork exercises.

In one, with three of the boys chained together, they had to climb a fake rock wall at least 50 feet high, "and I’m scared of heights," said eighth-grader Seth O’Dell.

"They could only go so high before they had to stop and help their teammates get up the wall," Flowers explained.

But while Flowers is helping the boys climb the walls we all encountered in our teen years, his program has hit another wall: a lack of funding. Although Gallagher said he and Pottstown Family Center Director Vanessa Saylor have applied for a new grant, even if it’s awarded, the funding would not be available until February.

"We’re basically running on fumes," said Gallagher, noting that there are eight other Peaceful Posse programs in the greater Philadelphia region, but "we had to shut down the one in Norristown because we’ve just run out of funds."

Gallagher -- who can be reached at briancjg@aol.com or at 610-212-0196 -- said he is hoping publicity about the program and its positive results will generate interest from potential funding sources.

"The Pottstown group is a model for how the Peaceful Posse method works," Gallagher said. "The group bonds well, the boys begin to trust each other and the group leader, and before you know it violence decreases, grades improve and signs of peaceful leadership begin to emerge."

Success, which is measured by the absence of violence as well as the improvement of grades, can be hard to quantify.

"It’s always a work in progress, it depends on the kids you get each year," Flowers explained.

But he has seen successes nonetheless.

"I’ve kept in touch with a couple of the kids in high school and they’re doing well. Some of them said they’d like to come back or form a group at the high school," said Flowers.

"But I can remember one boy in particular. He played football and he showed up one day and said this other kid had been razzing him for three weeks," Flowers recalled. "He told me, ‘I was going to fight him today, but then I decided to come and talk to you instead because you taught me how to do that.’

"That’s when you know you’ve made a difference."

©The Mercury 2005


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