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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​North Providence High School students learn how to identify and de-escalate conflict.


North Providence High School is the first high school in Rhode Island to integrate Kingian Nonviolence into the curriculum and school culture. 

Based on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the organizing strategies he used during the Civil Rights Movement, Kingian Nonviolence is a philosophy of nonviolent conflict reconciliation. It includes the study and analysis of conflict (how to understand conflict), the Principles of Nonviolence and the Steps of Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation (how to address conflict and restore relationships).

Through the initiative of two English teachers and RIC alumni – Aimee Marsland Ryan ’10 and her husband Jason Lorenz Ryan ’09 – this curriculum was brought to the high school last year.

The couple first completed 120 hours of training at the University of Rhode Island and now offer the training through an elective course and an afterschool program. They’ve also opened the Center for Peace and Nonviolence at their school, where they mediate conflicts between students.​

Their first mediation involved a student who believed another student was making fun of her clothing. According to the school administrator, there was talk of a fight. The mother of the second student had come in afraid that her daughter would be “jumped.” The administrator asked the Ryans to step in.

Jason and Aimee Ryan

​Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation

Step One: Make a Person​al 
Commitment.
When you are in a conflict, it’s impor-
tant to contemplate your commitment
to reconciling the conflict and reaffirm-
ing that commitment throughout the
process.

Step Two: Gather Information. 
Research and gather all vital infor-
mation from all sides of the argument
until you have all the facts. Become
an expert on opposing positions.

Step Three: Educate.
Take the information you have
gathered and use it to educate those
involved in the conflict. Often differ-
ences are resolved at steps two and
t​hree, and lead directly to reconcilia-
tion.

Step Four: Discuss and Negotiate. 
Come to an agreement that satisfies 
everyone’s needs, working in​ the best
interests of everyone.

Step Five: Take Direct Action. 
If a negotiated agreement is not 
achieved, then a direct action (e.g., 
petition, march, boycott, etc.) is 
needed. The goal of direct action is
to return to negotiation.

Step Six: Reconcile. Nonviolence 
does not seek to defeat the opponent, 
it seeks friendship and understanding 
with the opponent. The goal is the
creation of a Beloved (Peaceful) ​
​​​Community.

​​

















​“One of the preliminary steps in Kingian Nonviolence is to gather information,” Aimee said. “So, first we talked to the girls separately to hear their side of the story before we brought them together.”

After listening to both sides, the Ryans realized there was a common player spreading misinformation. 

“Once we got to that point, we felt comfortable bringing the two girls into the room together,” Jason said. “Then this beautiful thing happened. The student who thought her clothing was being trashed because she was poor and lived in the projects, found out that the girl she wanted to fight was also poor and lived in the projects.”

“And the reason this girl was always staring at her was because the girl liked her style,” Aimee said.

“So, I’m like, ‘You guys were literally about to fight because this girl digs your style. That’s wild.’ We laughed about that,” Jason said.

“We find in working with students that assumptions and misinformation are often the source of conflict,” Aimee said. “One of the first things we get our students to try to do is humanize the other person. When you can get two people to remember that they’re both human, that they have shared emotions and shared experiences, it’s a lot easier to de-escalate a conflict.”

Before the girls parted, Jason posed this question, “What happens tomorrow when you’re with your friend and she starts talking trash about this girl?” The student responded that she’d shut her friend down. “There’s power in self-determination,” Jason said, “in not letting people determine how you behave.”

There’s also power in having a Center for Peace and Nonviolence in your high school. Teachers have praised the effectiveness of the Kingian Nonviolence program, stating that it not only helps with conflict resolution, it lowers suspension rates and aids in social/emotional learning.

Students at North Providence High School who take this training form bonds of friendship with students they never would have otherwise. Three students have taken on leadership roles around gun violence and invited U.S. Rep. David Cicilline to class. They had him take part in one of the Kingian Nonviolence modules, asked pointed questions of the congressman and expressed their concern about the inaction of government leaders around gun violence. 

Another student is doing his senior research project on Kingian Nonviolence, which includes compiling a listing/network of Kingian Nonviolence groups across Rhode Island so that when action is needed on an issue, the entire coalition can be mobilized.




The Ryans would like to see Kingian Nonviolence training in every elementary, secondary and higher education institution.

“The objective is to recognize that conflict is inevitable,” Jason said. “People are going to disagree. But if we can see conflict as natural and neutral we won’t be hijacked by it and escalate so quickly.”

“Kingian Nonviolence also helps us recognize that we’re more alike than different,” Aimee added. 

“You may be a hip hop kid, while another kid may be into country music,” Jason said. “But when the two of you sit down together and talk about what is important to you – family, God, etc. – you discover that really the only difference between the two of you is the tempo and beat of the music you listen to.”​

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.