WMS’s Kingian Nonviolence Program Expanding to More Watertown Schools

A closeup of the section of Watertown’s Kingian Nonviolence Mural featuring Martin Luther King.

An effort to teach students and teachers about Dr. Martin Luther King’s nonviolence teachings that began four years ago at Watertown Middle School has now spread to all the Watertown Public Schools. Organizers hope that the program can get regular financial support to keep it going.

Over the years, the Kingian Nonviolence teaching has spread from a small group of students at Watertown Middle School to include more teachers, Watertown Police officers and town residents. Now WMS offers a class focusing on the subject, and students from the middle school have sought to spread it to the other schools in town.

Word of Watertown’s efforts has reached to state level. A group of students, staff and a police officer from Watertown was asked to give a presentation to about the Kingian Nonviolence program at a statewide fair organized by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), said Superintendent Dede Galdston. It was highlighted as a way to bring equity to schools, and as part of the district’s social and emotional learning efforts.

“It was a proud moment for the district, and since then we have been given compliments that our presentation was by far one of the best they had seen in years,” Galdston said. “We’re just so proud of the work this grass roots effort the really came from individuals and students, and to see it flourish is really impressive.”

Teachers and students came to the School Committee on Monday night to share what they have done, and what the hope to do in the future.

Middle School

The Kingian Nonviolence class that started four years ago has grown in popularity. It started when a student approached a school administrator to ask if an elective could be created.

The middle school also uses Restorative Justice Circles to deal with issues that arise between students. During the circles, all parties are brought together to meet, talk about what happened, and settle on a plan to repair the harm.

Students from the middle school also made a presentation about Restorative Justice Circles at the first Anti-Bias Coalition meeting, a group that was started after anti-Semitic graffiti was found at the middle school in 2018.

School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read, who teaches in the Cambridge Public Schools, said that Restorative Justice and Kingian Nonviolence has been shown to greatly reduce “punitive punishment” for students and is important for equity.

School Committee Chairman John Portz noted how the program has grown.

“It is interested that it started at the middle school and is spreading out in two directions,” Portz said. “It is reaching the elementary school and now (students are) passing it on to the high school.”

Elementary Schools

A student from Watertown Middle School told the School Committee that he recently went to Hosmer Elementary School to share the principles of Kingian Nonviolence:

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.
  3. Attack forces of evil not persons doing evil.
  4. Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve a goal.
  5. Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
  6. The Universe is on the side of justice.

He said he wanted elementary school students to know the basics so they already knew them when they arrived at the middle school.

High School

Over the summer, the Kingian program was integrated into the high school curriculum. Six students approached WHS Assistant Principal Annemarie Boudreau about bringing the teachings into some of the trainings used by teachers during the ninth-grade advisory periods.

The students created five modules to be used in advisory, including three focused on Restorative Justice and two on Kingian Nonviolence.

In the spring of 2020, the Kingian trainers will gather to look at ways to expand the use of it in the advisory program further from the ninth grade into the 10th grade, and look at creating a course at the high school.

Beyond the Schools

The Kingian Nonviolence trainers will be putting on a pair of trainings this school year. One for the community in February and one for teachers from the elementary schools, the middle school and the high school, as well as Watertown Police officers.

This will further the unique program being run in Watertown, said WMS Spanish teacher Holly Cachimuel.

“Watertown is the only community which has the elementary, middle and high school, and the police aligned,” Cachimuel said. “The only community.”

At the end of the Kingian Nonviolence presentation, the instructors said that a key part of keeping the program going, and expanding, is funding. They asked if the School Committee could make it part of the School District’s budget.

Galdston commended the program, and said efforts have been made to build on the layers already created by the Kingian Nonviolence initiative and make them more systemwide. Some of the efforts, include the Equity Leadership Team with the teachers, the Anti-Bias Coalition which brings together the community and schools, the district’s work with Harvard’s RIDES (Reimagining Integration Diverse and Equitable Schools) Initiative.

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