By Tina Jenkins Bell
BAPA School Liaison
Last year, St. Barnabas School started a peer mediation program to help students develop conflict resolution, communication, and leadership skills that may have fallen dormant during the pandemic years of isolation, online learning, and COVID 19 anxiety.
“We lost a lot of social and communication skills during the pandemic,” said St. Barnabas counselor Jeanne Miller. “Our peer mediation program reminds students that we are all human beings who don’t need to get along 100% of the time. But we can get together with compromises and by communicating with one another.”
Peer mediation is a process where trained students act as neutral mediators for their peers who each get their turn sharing their part or perception of the conflict. These student mediators work with their peers to uncover the root causes of their dispute. They also help them devise a fair way to resolve their conflict. The agreement on how the conflict will be resolved is recorded by one of the two mentors facilitating the process. Afterwards, both parties must sign whatever agreement they decided to pursue.
At St. Barnabas, the junior high students are trained as mediators after being recommended or volunteering to participate. Miller said, their goal is to have approximately ten peer mediators. After some peer mentors from last year graduated, they currently have five. Miller is optimistic they will reach their goal.
St. Barnabas students who become peer mediators receive service hours for participation. Miller oversees all sessions and believes both mediators and conflicting parties appreciate the peer mediation option, which allows them to avoid seeing her or the principal for minor infractions.
“If it’s something serious, like bullying, that’s referred for adult mediation, starting with the counselor and graduating to the principal depending on the severity of the situation,” she said.
Miller added, students involved in minor conflicts or can refer themselves for mediation. Teachers can also refer students to participate in the process, too.
“Kids really seem to like it,” Miller said. “Even the mediators become positive examples for resolving conflicts by sharing their own experience with similar conflicts.”
Miller added, peer mediation not only helps students resolve conflicts assertively it also teaches students essential life, communication, and problem-solving skills. It motivates students to solve their issues collaboratively, empowers them, improves their self-esteem, and improve the school climate.
Additional sources and information on student peer mediation programs can be found at the Association of Supervision and Curriculum (ASCD), www.ascd.org.