Archive for Thursday, December 29, 2005

Peers help to solve conflicts at LIS

December 29, 2005

At Lansing Intermediate School, a handful of students will be talking seriously with their peers about peaceful resolutions to conflict.

Their work won't quite have the magnitude of the United Nations, but nonetheless, it will be important in the lives of their classmates.

One boy and one girl from each classroom at LIS are selected by their classmates to be peer mediators. Peer mediators are called upon to help students resolve conflicts with each other, counselor Marianne Walker said. The fourth- and fifth-grade students will begin their mediation duties at the beginning of January.

Here's how it works: If students at the school have a conflict with each other, any of the parties involved can request peer mediation by completing a form. Walker will schedule a meeting during recess with the students in conflict and a pair of peer mediators from the same grade but a different class.

"It helps students sit and think about what happened and talk about the incident," Walker said about the meetings.

The mediators come prepared to stay neutral and be honest and fair, Walker said. They receive training on how to handle the job, and they are instructed to keep all mediation confidential.

Students who make good mediators are fair, trustworthy, open-minded, mature and good communicators, she said.

Although teachers have the final say on who will be their class mediators, Walker said the process of student election worked well.

"Kids pick the perfect kids. They just know who would be good," she said.

At a mediation meeting, Walker said, the mediators will read a script that tells the other students to be willing to solve the conflict, tell the truth, listen without interrupting, show respect and carry out the agreement for resolution. The mediators take notes of each participant's version of the story and ideas for possible solutions. They also write up an agreement for the involved students to follow the solution.

"They take it very seriously," Walker said. "They will be very businesslike. They don't joke around; they're very serious about the whole meeting.

"It helps solve the problem. This is a business-type meeting, and they've got things to do."

Walker said a benefit to having peers moderate rather than adults was that sometimes students' peers understand the problem better. Students may also be less intimidated to go to mediation, she said.

"They don't feel as threatened" when talking to peers, Walker said. "They're always worried about getting in trouble.

"You're not in trouble when you come to peer mediation."

At a December training session for fifth-grade mediators, some students were concerned about fights breaking out during the sessions. Walker assured them that the worst problem she'd had was students facing opposite directions in their chairs. Plus, she said, if the situation escalates out of the mediators' control, they can ask Walker to sit in on the meeting.

In any case, Walker said, a problem such as a fight would go to the principal, not peer mediation.

The conflicts mediators handle often involve students feeling left out or not following rules on the playground, or gossiping.

"That's the big one," Walker said.

Overall, Walker said, she thought the program was effective.

"You really see some good coming out of it," she said.

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