The Peace Model Project

What if every school partnered with a community mental health center to deeply impact mental wellbeing for all children?

Photo of Inya Chehade
5 26

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

The idea for the Peace Model Project crystallized after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT. Much of the discourse in the media and in our school communities focused on how to keep children safe - school lock downs, security drills & more police presence. The dialogue was directed towards how to "keep bad people out" and less about empowerment, support, and prevention. Security is created within. Security is not created by building walls and constructing barriers. I was inspired to focus on building strength and impacting school climate from within by creating Peace Rooms in every school & hiring passionate, skilled school counselors to bring mindfulness & safe spaces to classrooms while identifying children with greater mental health needs for support. The seeds for this project were already firmly in place, as The Bridge had been providing in-school counseling support in the local school district for 40 years. The superintendent saw the opportunity to expand the partnership and, together with The Bridge, we pursued a major federal grant to significantly expand the program with laser focus. The major goals of the program include the following components: help elementary school students develop stress reduction, coping and self regulation skills; help reduce bullying and harassment by improving student relationships with peers, families and the school community; and provide appropriate services to students experiencing significant mental health problems.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Self-identify race, ethnicity, or origin

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Ukrainian & Italian


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New Jersey

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

West Caldwell

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New Jersey

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Caldwell/West Caldwell, New Jersey.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Bridge is a 45 yr community based mental health organization that has worked with children & families often at a point of mental health or addiction crisis, when a family is unraveling & children are living with deep internal suffering. We see the devastation that occurs when mental health issues go unchecked, the signs of which often start at young ages. The Peace Model Project is a partnership between The Bridge & The Caldwell/West Caldwell School district to provide mental health counseling & prevention services to ALL elementary school children. All PMP counselors are licensed mental health clinicians, fully integrated into each elem. school, teaching emotional regulation skills, creating a climate of acceptance & giving students permission to safely express difficult feelings. Our model fully integrates mental health support in schools - not an outsourced option for a few.

"We have to think and see how we can fundamentally change our education system so that we can train people to develop warmheartedness early on in order to create a healthier society.  We need to encourage an understanding that inner peace comes from relying on human values like love, compassion, tolerance and honesty, and that peace in the world relies on individuals finding inner peace".  The Dalai Lama

These inspiring words are the basis of The Peace Model Project.  Public schools are an integral part of the fabric of our society in the United States.   Children often see themselves through the lens of the world around them and their experiences at school are a contributing factor in molding and shaping their views of the world and themselves.  Our solution is give children the built-in safety & tools they need in the school setting to be able to manage life's complexities - including sadness & loss, anxiety, anger, disappointment - and to understand that they are not alone, that their feelings are validated, and that they can identify & work through those feelings using learned tools & skills.  Through a team-based philosophy and approach, each of our Peace Model school counselors (one dedicated to each of the four elementary schools) has the opportunity to teach directly in each of the K-5 classrooms, utilizing an evidence-based, Peace First curriculum that fosters resiliency & wellness.  Each child in every elementary school also has open access to our licensed and highly trained school counselors directly in the dedicated space called the "Peace Room" - where they have access to mindfulness & meditations through technology, calming books to read, soft chairs & rugs, & stress reduction balls.  This space encourages dialogue, healing and connection.   Our counselors also provide direct intervention, counseling, and crisis response to children & their families.  In addition to one on one counseling, our school counselors create small groups throughout the school year when specific needs arise.  These groups are mediated and led by our PMP school counselors and they are utilized to address particular needs, such as anxiety among 4th grade girls, or social skill building with 3rd grade boys.   When there is a need for more intensive work outside of school, referrals are made to The Bridge or to other community based mental health organizations.   Our solutions:  to help students develop stress reduction, coping and self-regulation skills; to help reduce bullying and harassment by improving student relationships with their peers, families, and their school community; and to provide the appropriate supports and services to students experiencing significant distress.  The Bridge's tagline says it all:  Healthy Minds.  Healing Hearts. Peaceful Communities. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

It is a partnership between The Bridge, a mental health organization & the local school district.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The Peace Model Project school counselor is excited to share the book, One, by Kathryn Otoshi, with the second grade class at Wilson Elementary. The book focuses on different colors - Blue is a quiet color. Red's a hothead. Yellow, Orange, Green & Purple don't like what they see but what can they do? One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up. The counselor reads & processes the book with the young students - they also participate in a colorful art meditation where they identify their feelings through colors and reflect those on paper. Later in the day, a student in the class visits The Peace Room because she is struggling with the death of her dog and is able to use the color "blue" to begin to open up about her feelings.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The impact of The Peace Model Project was very significant. Each elementary school designated space for their Peace Rooms. Every child (1127 children) received in-class instruction through the evidence-based Character Counts curriculum monthly. Counselors provided direct services (intervention, counseling & referral) to identified students exhibiting symptoms for mh concerns; 22 psychoeducational counseling & intervention groups were conducted; 22% decrease in disciplinary referrals across the elementary population; major decrease in ER referrals for psychiatric crises. Two clinical assessment tools were piloted - Multidimensional Life Satisfaction Survey & Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaire. PMP is the first school counseling program to integrate MH screening as a routine part of a school based Intervention & Referral process. Future impact = more schools = more children smiling.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The Peace Model Project has secure funding through 2018 through the US Department of Education. We will seek funds to sustain & expand it long-term, in part through school district funds as well as through other government (US Dept of Education school climate grants) or larger private foundations (RWJF). We are in discussions with a major bank foundation about "adopting a school" to expand The Peace Model Project into another school district.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Child well-being is being addressed by many wonderful organizations throughout the US through evidence based practices such as Trauma Informed Care, Nurtured Heart Approach, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The PMP is unique by providing consistent mental health services & curriculum-based wellness prevention to an entire general education population. Our goal is to become a national model to fully integrate mental health support & prevention into a mainstream, public ed curriculum. Our 40 yr history of providing school-based counseling gives us a uniquely strong springboard for a leader role.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Mental health must be incorporated into public education without detracting from educational priorities. Bringing mental health out of the "trailer" and into the mainstream general education setting is a critical shift that must happen, as school districts across the country are struggling to respond to and address increasing mental health challenges confronting our children & families. Mental health assessment, response & referral needs to be incorporated in a safe & non stigmatizing way. Schools & local mental health organizations need to partner to create real change at the ground level

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Program Design Clarity

The beneficiary community is elementary school aged children (K-5) who attend public school. This model focuses on Prevention/Education - Screening/Detection-Treatment-Followup/Services-Crisis Management. The three tiers include 1. Schoolwide - 100% of students make use of The Peace Room & receive in class instruction in mindfulness/coping strategies; 100% of students are screened for mental health challenges; 2. Groups - counselors form small group to enhance coping skills (20% of students) 3. Individual: 100% of students with mental health needs receive in school counseling or referral.

Community Leadership

A Community Advisory Board consisting of student & staff representatives from each elementary school, parent Home School Association reps, reps from the First Aid & Police squad, the superintendent, the CEO of The Bridge, and volunteers is being created. They will meet quarterly to review results from our Evaluation Team and to recommend changes to the program to maintain equity of service. Hard data helps to identify areas of major need.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12

Spread Strategies

The Peace Model Project can be replicated in other school districts, given sufficient funding support. Its curriculum, program & staff structure can be licensed & packaged & trainings can be developed to share knowledge and best practices. We plan to build connections with funders who see the big picture for this scalable program & to advocate to local/state legislators the essential need in all schools to implement such a critical program.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

The sense of safety begins with a child knowing that their school is a safe place. The Peace Rooms adds another level of comfort by reducing the stigma of mental health needs & making it a welcoming place where children want to visit without feeling embarrassed. In-class curriculum, group & individual counseling sessions that are viewed as open, supportive, welcoming, help to foster connection & build that sense self - I am not alone & I matter.

Leadership Story

As most social workers, psychologists & school counselors will tell you, most roads lead back to childhood. Childhood is a precious time which should be filled with wonder, play, imagination & safety - a gift which my parents gave me. A secure & loving childhood reinforces the message on a deep level that the world is safe & that I matter. When I took the helm at The Bridge, witnessing the healing that could occur from good counseling, I reflected that most people, especially children, were not getting the support they needed & saw the opportunity to impact large change through local schools.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Melanie Gilbert

Good Morning, Inya:

An exciting part of this Changemaker's Challenge is seeing more than 60 ideas for Children's Wellbeing collected in one spot. Our children are being well served by people you and projects like the Peace Model.

What's particularly interesting is how many of these programs - like yours - are actively engaging the child in their wellness journey. For instance, we're not just feeding kids and their families via the food bank model, we're teaching them to grow and harvest their food (Let's Get Growing: which helps other people in their community, too. They are being served and serving which creates the positive feedback loop that is essential to healthy personal growth.

What a lot of these Children's Wellbeing projects have in common is that they are connecting wellbeing with empowerment by giving kids the tools they need to be successful.

I also like seeing our tax dollars hard at work supporting initiatives like yours. Our government funds  a lot of terrific programs, and I'm glad you are leveraging that important resource.

Trauma is corrosive. Finding peace in the midst of chaos - essentially learning to self sooth and self regulate - is an important piece of children's wellbeing. Glad you are at the forefront of that revolution.

- Melanie, "I Am SOMEBODY" Changemaker

PS: Love your mission statement: "Healthy Minds. Healing Hearts. Peaceful Communities.". Right on!

Photo of Inya Chehade

Thank you Melanie!  We are so excited about The Peace Model Project.  With a year under our belt, the model is being solidified, modified, and expanded to adjust to the needs of each of our elementary schools, yet the overarching themes of safety, wellness, comfort, support, and reducing stigma and shame are front and center in each of our schools.   Having the strong partnership of our local school district along with our mental health organization has been the key foundational piece to The Peace Model Project.  Yes, we love our tagline too - if you look at our Bridge logo, you'll see it personifies those words - the logo reflects a group of individuals, all different shades of the same color purple, in a circle embracing each other and their embracing arms create "hearts" between them.  That's what it's all about - Healthy Minds. Healing Hearts. Peaceful Communities.

Photo of Alex Juvion

Awesome blog you written and shared here about the peace model project. Keep it up!

View all comments