Conflicts between students arise all the time and, throughout the decades, a trip to the vice principal’s office has been used to resolve them.
But studies have shown that another effective method, favored by students, exists in situations when there is no danger or threat posed to a student and allows for resolution without the intervention of an administrator. This is peer mediation, a program running successfully at Scotts Ridge Middle School.
“Peer mediation is a response to school climate and new bullying laws coming down from the state,” explains Scotts Ridge Middle School guidance counselor and mediation advisor Lisa Rodden. “Ours is a national program, in which student mediators are selected by their peers and teachers for being impartial, good listeners and trustworthy.”
“It’s cool to know that I have a part in making the school a happy place for students,” says seventh grader Angele Dellacorte.
“I like that what we do helps to relieve tension and get rid of lots of behaviors and situations that kids find very distracting,” adds seventh grader Noah Isaacson.
They are two of 20 peer mediators, 10 from seventh grade and 10 from eighth.
Once selected, peer mediators go through a comprehensive training process. This year’s team attended an off-site summer camp where they worked on team building skills, role playing, effective communication, and leadership.
During the school year, the mediators had weekly training meetings with Mrs. Rodden and advisors Marissa Birdsell and Tom Broderick, social studies teachers at Scotts Ridge Middle School.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” says Ms. Rodden, “a life skill for the student mediator.”
When a conflict is identified, the students involved are offered the option of confidential peer mediation. Mrs. Rodden emphasizes that peer mediation is never an option when there is a serious incident, when a student is threatened, or when a student feels unsafe. When the method can be used, a student mediator is assigned by Mrs. Rodden to be the facilitator who will help the disagreeing students resolve their conflict.
The students in conflict get equal time to tell their side of the story and identify what could be done differently and what will help resolve the conflict. The student mediator is taught to help them find common ground and a goal on which they can agree. The mediation ends with a written agreement which all parties sign.
The mediators understand that their job is to assist their peers. They don’t take sides or give advice. They are not responsible for carrying out the resolution. Most especially, they never talk with their friends about what they do.
Access to the adult advisors is available at all times throughout the mediation.
Mrs. Rodden says that “students helping students” is the important concept at work. Studies have shown that empowering students with the ability to solve their own problems gives them a better understanding of conflict and improves their communication and critical thinking skills.
The program has met with enthusiastic support from the peer mediators who are very motivated to have a hand in school climate. Seventh grader Michael Dobson, in evaluating the success of the program at the end of his first year of participation, says, “During the year, there were several conflicts that were resolved through peer mediation. We recently attended a forum on cyber-bullying in Hartford and we learned what steps to take to create a positive school climate. I feel fortunate to be involved in this program.”
This year’s peer mediators were, from grade eight: Chris Auslander, Caitlin Cancilla, Amelia Hadar, Devon Hammer, Robert Jewell, Maddie Kutler, John Maguire, Aidan Meacham, Nina Moss, and Abbey Walter; and, from grade seven: Jack Ambrosino, Jason Bangser, Kathryn Barlow, Reaghan Briggs, Madison Cone, Angele Dellacorte, Michael Dobson, Julia Driscoll, Noah Isaacson and Michael Yodice.