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Strategy: Peer Mediation in High Schools

Strategy School-based programs instructing youth in mediating peer conflicts give youth participants the communication, anger management, leadership, and decision-making . . .

Strategy

School-based programs instructing youth in mediating peer conflicts give youth participants the communication, anger management, leadership, and decision-making skills that help them to remain resilient against crime, violence, and substance abuse.

Community Problem Addressed

In 1994, Southeastern Regional Vision for Education surveyed more than 500 teens nationwide on violence and schools.  Results revealed that over 80 percent had witnessed a fight, nearly one in five had seen a student assault a teacher, and 20 percent had seen a student threaten to use a knife.  Many of these situations resulted from poor communication, taunts or threatening language, lack of clear and consistent standards of conduct, and fear.  This strategy aims to train students in high schools so that they can mediate conflicts among their peers and give other youth on campus more effective communication and problem-solving skills.

Key Components

School-based mediation improves students' communication skills and trains students in violence prevention so that they can mediate conflicts among their peers. When a dispute occurs on school grounds, the parties involved seek out a teacher or the program coordinator on campus. The coordinator assigns peer mediators to intervene and attempt to resolve the dispute without violence. Participants must agree and commit to a contract with set standards of conduct.  Conflict resolution through mediation often substitutes for detention or suspension of youth involved in fights, verbal threats, or intimidation of other students on school grounds. Training for student mediators must be age-appropriate and develop skills in active listening, effective communication, and anger management.

Teachers, administrators, and staff need to be trained to ensure that they interact with one another and students in recommended ways. Student mediators should reflect the diversity of the student population with respect to gender, racial/cultural group, academic performance, economic status, and age.

Key Partnerships

School administrators and staff should team up to train students. They should track the program's impact on school suspensions, reports of fighting, disciplinary referrals, and crime on school grounds. Students should be involved in designing the program and providing information about it to all students and parents.

Potential Obstacles

Lack of adequate funds to train students, adult advisors, teachers, and administrators is a major concern to school districts considering this strategy. The school can seek support from local businesses and civic groups or apply for grants from foundation sources or state and federal government agencies to cover training costs and materials to publicize the initiative.

Examples of Success and Results

A school-based mediation program in Stow, Ohio [population 31,198], began in the high school in 1994. Counselors train students and staff in mediation techniques and effective communication, anger management, and conflict resolution skills. A core of over 25 student mediators works with staff to address problems referred by teachers, students, and disputants. The conflicts include disagreements over hallway confrontations, dating relationships, fights, and intimidation. In 1998, the school resource officer helped the student mediators and staff confront and resolve over 100 disputes. The program has been so well received by students, administrators, parent groups, and teachers that the school system plans by late 1999 to expand it to the community's middle schools. The high school mediators will also be used to mediate disputes among elementary school students, helping the younger children develop skills that will help them in school, at home, and in the neighborhood.

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