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Peer mediators use reasoning to resolve conflicts

February 15, 2001

Peer mediators use reasoning to resolve conflicts



"There's nothing bad about feeling angry," says 10-year-old Josh Zimmerman.

He admits to sometimes fighting with his younger brother, but it makes him feel bad. "I love my brother," he says.

Josh and several other Eastern Elementary School fifth-graders know there are alternatives to fighting. They are peer mediators, helping other students resolve conflicts in a thoughtful, reasoned way.

Last year, school counselor Julie Van Metre trained 15 fourth-grade students in the art of mediation. Now fifth-graders, the students take turns helping fellow students work out conflicts - trouble with rumors, name calling, being picked on, for example. Students can be referred by teachers or staff members, or they can request a mediation themselves.

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"I like helping others," says Bobie Sager, 10, explaining why she wanted to be a mediator. Most people give up and stop being friends, she says. She thinks mediation can help.

Students follow a script during the process. There always are two peer mediators. They introduce themselves and tell the students that the sessions are confidential. "We agree not to tell anybody about this," says mediator Rebecca McCue, 10.

They lay out the ground rules: Students must agree to work hard to solve the problem, not to interrupt, to tell the truth and not to call each other names.

What happens if they don't agree to one of the rules?

"Sorry, we can't help you," Rebecca says.

If rules are not followed in the middle of the process, the mediator will give a warning, says Tim Jacobson, 11. "You agreed to ...," Rebecca will remind them.

Each of the students in conflict tells what happened. The mediators use their own words to state what the problem is.

Each student is asked what he can say or do to solve the problem.

The process is very solution-based, Van Metre says. The goal is "let's get to a solution." Solutions may include apologies or even staying away from each other.

Mediation doesn't mean the kids have to be best friends, but they have to exist in the same classroom or in the same school. "If they can sit on the other side of the conflict, it gives them a whole new perspective," Van Metre says.

Mediation sessions end with agreement that the problem has been solved and the assignment of telling their friends that it has been solved so they stop talking about it. Students are congratulated, and there are handshakes all around.

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