Fort Huachuca’s General Myer Elementary School has a unique way of settling conflicts between students, through peer mediation, the process in which students themselves act as mediators to facilitate resolving other students’ disputes at recess time.
“The reason we started the Peer Mediation Program was to have students learn how to manage conflict at a young age,” said Jan Camps, General Myer Elementary School counselor. She added that the program has existed at the school since the early 1990s.
At the beginning of the school year, each teacher recommends two students from their class to the Peer Mediation Program coordinators. The children undergo interviews from Sherry Avery, school behavior coach and Peer Mediator supervisor, and receive special training to become a peer mediator. This year there are 30 students involved in the program.
“Students mainly like to come to their peers more than adults to [get help] with their conflicts,” Avery explained.
Peer mediators handle the small playground conflicts and friendship disputes with the following steps:
* Peer mediators ask the students involved in the conflict if they want to resolve the problem
* They explain the rules — agree to listen to each other, no interrupting, yelling, or put downs, and to tell the truth
* Peer mediators ask each child to explain the problem and describe how it makes him or her feel
* They rephrase what the disputants say to them to make sure they are clearly understanding those involved
* Everyone brainstorms as many solutions as possible
* A solution is chosen and both students agree to the solution by signing a peer mediation form, collected by Avery after recess.
The behavior coach said a peer mediator never gets involved in a conflict unless the students come to them. Peer mediators volunteer two recesses a week, wearing a special t-shirt and carrying a clipboard with the agreement forms.
“It’s an honor to be a peer mediator. I’m so lucky, I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity; not everybody’s chosen,” explained Dineh-Ashkii Green, 9.
In addition to the initial interview and peer mediator training, these students must exemplify model behavior and good grades all year to continue in the program. Avery also holds meetings to make sure the training they receive in handling conflicts is ongoing.
While conflict resolution presents a serious topic, peer mediators Chase Deleon, 9, Elisabeth Mullins, 8, and Katelynn Harris, 10, said they find their roles to be fun. All three expressed their interest solving problems and helping others.
For Laila Avery, 10, and Grant Witkop, 10, this is their second year in the program. Both students agree that peer mediation has other benefits, such as becoming an open-minded person.
“My favorite thing about being a peer mediator is learning to communicate with my peers … just getting to know everybody at the school and their personal beliefs and thoughts,” Laila said.
Grant added, “My favorite thing is getting to help people but it also gives you the chance to meet new people and see their characteristics.”
Aside from the ongoing training and students who take interest in the experience, Avery said the other key component to the Peer Mediation Program is positive encouragement. She gave examples of praising the students and hosting outings and parties over the year for those involved.
“Some have strived to be the best peer mediators and for the rest I will keep motivating them to do better,” Avery said. “I try to keep them going by encouraging, because yes, this is a big sacrifice for losing playground or recess time.”
Myer School isn’t the only school to implement this type of program. According to the website www.peermediators.org, peer mediation is used in schools throughout the country and the world.