Minter Creek Elementary School All Star Alyssa Hall, in the orange vest, helps resolve a recent playground problem with, from left, Marielena Romero, Clarissa Hains, Breana Dalesky and Lilly Boere. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

A group of fifth-graders at Minter Creek Elementary School are learning important new skills that benefit their fellow students and their community.

They’re learning to be conflict managers on the school’s playgrounds.

According to Becky Maffei, the school counselor, the All Stars program trains fifth-graders to resolve minor differences that occasionally arise during recess such as squabbles over a toy or the friendship issues about who wants to play with whom.

The program began many years ago by Ann Olson, the school’s previous counselor.

“It’s very popular with the kids,” Maffei said. “It’s become part of the culture at Minter Creek.

“When kids get to be fifth-graders, one of their first questions is, ‘When do I get to apply to be an All Star?’ They get excited about it from the time they’re kindergarteners,” she said.

The All Stars are a very visible part of daily recess because of the bright orange vests they wear.

They work in teams of two. “They just walk around the playgrounds and help kids in general. But if a conflict occurs, they’ll offer to help the kids resolve it,” Maffei said.

Before they earn their orange vests and badges, Maffei teaches the All Stars simple, kid-level mediation skills. “They learn how to be good listeners, how to talk without interrupting and how to re-phrase things,” she said.

On the playground, the All Stars have the quarreling kids agree to some basic ground rules like don’t interrupt, use kind words and let each child tell their own side of the story, she added.

“The idea is to kind of walk the kids through the process of solving their own problems. They’re not disciplinarians or supervisors, they’re just there to offer help,” she said.

The All Stars also lend a hand to kids who are all by themselves on the playground or who look sad. “The All Stars can go over and ask ‘Hey, what’s going on? Can we help you find somebody to play with?’ or something,” she said.

Of course there are also times when the All Stars just call on an adult to step in. “If the kids don’t want their help, or if it’s a situation that might be dangerous, then they go get an adult,” Maffei said.

Every All Star has to apply for the position, including telling why they would be good at resolving conflicts and obtaining a recommendation from a teacher.

Usually 15 All Stars are selected each term.

Kaitlyn Holt, 11, has dreamed of being an All Star since she was in kindergarten.

“I was like, man, when I get in the fifth grade I’m gonna be an All Star,” she said. “I wanted to help kids find ideas to solve their problems. It’s fun because you get to be with your partner and sometimes kids just come up and ask us if we can help them with something. It’s like they trust us and feel comfortable with us,” Holt said.

Cayden Royne, 10, and Mason Palagyi, 11 are teamed-up this semester. “I think it’s cool that we can help other kids,” Royne said. “Like kids who are kind of tattle tales –– they can come to us instead of going to an adult.”

“It makes you have a good feeling to help people,” added Palagyi, who has wanted to be an All Star since he was in first grade.

Another team, Alyssa Hall, 10 and Larena Triplett, 11 agreed. “We’re helping with any problems that anyone is having,” Hall said. “Like somebody lost something and is upset so we just tell them to go to the lost and found. And sometimes we also help clean up.”

It can be a little boring when there’s nothing to do, Triplett added, “But It’s usually fun –– especially when we find a problem and solve it.”

Lakebay woman awaiting double organ transplant
Community artwork still beams at Minter Creek Elementary