Classrooms in Peace Within Violent Contexts: Field Evaluation of Aulas en Paz in Colombia
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Classrooms in Peace (Aulas en Paz) is an elementary school-based multicomponent program for prevention of aggression and promotion of peaceful relationships. Inspired by international programs and socio-emotional research, it includes (1) a classroom universal curriculum, (2) parent workshops and home visits to parents of the 10% most aggressive children, and (3) extracurricular peer groups of two aggressive and four prosocial children. Activities seek to promote socio-emotional competencies such as empathy, anger management, creative generation of alternatives, and assertiveness. A 2-year quasi-experimental evaluation was conducted with 1154 students from 55 classrooms of seven public schools located in neighborhoods with the presence of youth gangs, drug cartels, and high levels of community violence in two Colombian cities. Despite several implementation (e.g., about half of the activities were not implemented) and evaluation (e.g., randomization problems, large number of missing data, and changes between treatment and control groups) challenges, positive results were found in prosocial behavior and in reduction of aggressive behavior, according to teacher reports, and in assertiveness and reduction of verbal victimization, according to student reports. Furthermore, implementation cost (25 US dollars per student per year) was very low compared to other programs in developed countries. This study shows that the Classrooms in Peace program has an important potential to generate positive results and highlights the challenges of implementing and evaluating prevention programs in highly violent environments.
KeywordsAggression Socio-emotional competencies Citizenship competencies Bullying Colombia
We are very grateful to the Manuelita S.A. and its affiliated Harold Eder Foundation for financing the current study. We also thank the non-governmental organization Convivencia Productiva for leading the implementation of the program and for providing support during the data collection process. A substantial part of the writing of the article was made possible by a Georg Forster Fellowship granted to the first author by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany. The second author was financed by a full scholarship by Colciencias. We are very thankful to Diana Andrade, Martha Isabel Cerón, Ana Lucía Jaramillo, Manuela Jiménez, José Fernando Mejía, Juan Jacobo Ospina, Mariajosé Otálora, and Álvaro Valencia for their crucial participation in the design and implementation of the evaluation. We really appreciate the careful reading and insightful suggestions by Guest Editor Dr. Nancy Guerra, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, and the two anonymous reviewers. We would like to specially thank all the students, teachers, principals, school coordinators, school psychologists, college students, volunteers, and research assistants who participated in this study. We would like to dedicate this paper to the memory of Anna King, whose strong convictions about the need for socio-emotional development helped bring Aulas en Paz to thousands of children, their teachers, and their families.
Chaux, Barrera, Castellanos, and Chaparro designed the evaluation. Analyses were conducted by Chaux, Barrera, Molano, and Velásquez. Drafts of the manuscript were written by Chaux, Barrera, Molano, and Velásquez. The other authors were part of the evaluation team and helped in the writing of the manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
The study was funded by the private group Manuelita S.A. and its affiliated Harold Eder Foundation. A substantial part of the writing of the article was made possible by a Georg Forster Fellowship granted to the first author by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany. The second author was financed by a full scholarship by Colciencias.
Conflict of Interest
As potential conflict of interests, we declare that some of the authors of this manuscript (Chaux, Velásquez, Castellanos, Chaparro, and Bustamante) were part of the team that designed the Classrooms in Peace (Aulas en Paz) program and that the first author (Chaux) was the leader of that team.
All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia.
Written consents were obtained from parents of all students who participated in the study as well as from all teachers who participated.
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