WARREN SCHOOLS Turner group aims to help pupils with their attitudes

Middle-schoolers are learning conflict resolution.
WARREN -- By 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon, hundreds of kids are already clogging the sidewalks around Turner Middle School.
Some huddle in impatient groups, waiting for the crossing guard to let them pass, others get their heads together, planning their afternoon fun.
But not all pupils have left the building. About 14 kids can be found in the echoing emptiness of the school's cafeteria. Some sit quietly; others are louder, demanding attention.
New group: The kids are part of a new group at Turner, called Gearing Attitudes of Maturing Men Abroad with Positive Helping Intentions -- or more simply, GAMMA PHI.
Teacher Robert Andrews and assistant principal Mark Fleming talk to them about diversity and cooperation in an effort to teach them how to solve problems constructively.
"Our goal is to help them to develop a better attitude, both in and out of school," Andrews said. "Too often, kids who aren't in sports or clubs fall through the cracks. Their way of getting attention is getting in trouble.
"We want them to know there are better ways."
Andrews is adamant about keeping the group positive -- even the acronym was chosen for its more positive connotation.
"The name gives [the program] a fraternity flavor," Andrews said. "Kids can relate to it, see it as a positive program, and then aren't offended by being involved."
Kids at risk: Although open to all pupils, the effort is targeted toward kids who are considered to be at risk of academic decline -- for example, those who have difficulty in their classes or who have been suspended.
"I used to fight -- a lot," one eighth-grader revealed. "But I haven't since I've been in GAMMA PHI."
A girl with long dark hair added, "Here, I've learned how to deal with problems in a good way."
Begun in late March, the group has met with limited success, Andrews said.
Each pupil was to formulate a goal to work toward, such as perfect attendance or better grades. Many have found it difficult to thoroughly realize them, or to stay out of trouble.
One of the group's major problems is simply a lack of time, he said. It meets only once a week for about an hour.
"We hope to meet more often next year. That way, we can be more involved, and more effective," Andrews said.
Success in Mansfield: Turner is not the first school where Andrews has implemented the program; he invented it at Mansfield Senior High School in Mansfield, where it became so successful that students in the middle school could not wait to join it in high school.
Although the kids at Turner are younger -- making them a little more difficult to work with -- Andrews said GAMMA PHI will eventually be successful here. His goal is ultimately to introduce the program to the entire school system.
"We'll get to where we'll make a difference," Andrews said. "And that's the whole purpose."