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Grade level: 4-12
Peer mediation is a method of conflict resolution practiced in many schools inMaine. Students are trained in specific techniques that allow them to assist their peers in resolving disputes in a way that satisfies all parties involved. Referrals come from the students themselves, teachers, and administrators. The mediation may be mandated in some schools, but participation in coming to a resolution is always voluntary. Peer mediation trains students in peaceful conflict resolution, reduces the disciplinary burden on administrators and provides a means for student to become involved in service to the school.
The mediation process generally has four stages. In Stage One, the mediators open the session with introductions and an explanation of the process and the role of the mediator. In Stage Two, the mediators gather information from the disputants, identifying the core issues using active listening skills and employing strategies for diffusing tension. Stage Three involves helping the parties see the other’s point of view so that they can come to a mutual understanding. In Stage Four, the mediators encourage the disputants to brainstorm possible solutions without giving them advice, so that the parties take responsibility for the resolution of the conflict. Mediations often conclude with a written agreement.
The Peer Mediation Association of Maine (PM/AM) was formed in 1995 at a conference of youth mediators to improve and advance peer mediation inMaine schools. PM/AM is divided into two chapters. The Southern PM/AM Chapter is staffed by Maine Law & Civics Education, a program of the University of Maine School of Law. The chapter’s programs, held at theUniversity ofSouthern Maine campus inPortland, are open to middle school and high school teams. The Central-Northern Chapter is coordinated by the Peace Studies Program at theUniversity ofMaine. The chapter’s programs, held at theUniversity ofMaine campus in Orono, include elementary, middle and high school teams. A biennial statewide conference of youth mediators is held inAugusta, planned and coordinated by MLCE and Peace Studies.
Youth Mediators, with the support of their school coordinators and University staff, promote awareness of the benefits of peer mediation, engage in training sessions, and generate support for school based mediation programs. A mission statement was written and adopted by the students in 1997:
We are the members of the Peer Mediation Association ofMaine who seek support and involvement from the community for mediation as an option for resolving conflicts. With this support we hope to provide opportunities for education and awareness about conflict resolution. We hope to extend the use of mediation throughoutMaine as an alternative to harassment and violence. Working together as mediators, we hope to empower individuals and foster a safer and healthier place to live.
Peer mediation puts the students themselves in charge of resolving interpersonal conflicts at school. Students are trained and supported by adults, but conduct mediations on their own in teams of two peer mediators with two disputants. The mediators model conflict resolution techniques, such as active listening, and the disputants learn to talk out a conflict rather than letting it escalate. A strong peer mediation program can improve school climate, with students leading the way.
Critical thinking, active listening, analyzing public policies, problems and assets, and understanding multiple perspectives
Developing tolerance, respect, and appreciation of difference
Developing concern with the rights and welfare of others
Developing a belief in one’s ability to make a difference
Developing attentiveness to civic matters and a desire to become involved in the civic life of the community
Conflict resolution education and peer mediation help create a constructive and safe learning environment. Jones, T. S., & Kmitta,. D. Eds. Does It Work: The Case for Conflict Resolution Education in our Nation’s Schools, (2000) from the Association for Conflict Resolution (web site www.acrnet.org)
Peer mediation requires the support of the administration. An awareness training for all staff is recommended. Successful programs often have a staff coordinating committee to oversee the initiative, link the program to discipline policy, coordinate and publicize the mediation program, maintain records, and evaluate the program The coordinating committee selects the mediators and trains them, or contracts with outside trainers. Once the program is underway, the coordinating committee may want to integrate conflict management education into academic subjects. One or two adult coordinators are required to act as case managers for the peer mediation program, talking with disputants, scheduling mediations, and meeting regularly with the team for continued skill development and problem-solving. Some schools provide a small stipend or release time to the peer mediation coordinator(s).
Maine Law & Civics Education (MLCE) conducts on-site training for staff and students in conflict management and peer mediation. The program is statewide for K-12 schools. MLCE advises school administrators on developing an effective peer mediation program, trains the school’s coordinating committee, conducts staff workshops and trains student mediators. Training is provided on a fee for service basis, partially supported by a grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Injury Prevention Program.
The Peace Studies program atUniversity ofMaine offers credit courses in mediation, as well as summer institutes for educators in conflict resolution and school mediation.
Peace Studies or MLCE has available evaluation packets, with cost sheets for pre-printed scan forms, tabulation services and school reports from the Center for Research and Evaluation atUniversity of Maine, to assist in evaluating the peer mediation program.
Peace Studies has a Coordinator Manual for Middle School Peer Mediation programs available at a small cost for schools wanting to start and/or maintain a peer mediation program.
Advocates for Children inLewiston,Maine provides training and support for peer mediation programs in their service area. Their website is http://www.advocatesforchildren.net/EducationPrograms.htm.
Maine Law & Civics Education and Peace Studies run several workshops or conferences each year with training for both peer mediators and coordinators. Both programs also offer conflict resolution in-service workshops for school staff.
Phil Studwell,LymanMooreMiddle School: Early on in the year fourteen to sixteen seventh and eighth grade students who are thought by their peers and teachers to listen well, be confidential, and have the ability to remain neutral are nominated to be Peer Mediators. The elected Peer Mediators are then trained for their positions in a two-day training session. Students are referred to the Peer Mediation staff by a teacher or guidance counselor and a mediation is arranged. Two Peer Mediators (usually one boy and on girl) are asked to mediate in each dispute. Thirty to forty mediations are done each year and have received a lot of positive feedback from teachers. The mediators feel that they are effective about half of the time, and only about ten percent would say they aren't effective. If the Mediators are not happy with their mediation, they refer the case to an adult. The disputants feel that fifty percent of the time it does some good and twenty percent of the time it does a lot of good. In general, the school reports a greatly improved school climate since the advent of Peer Mediation about five years ago.
Maine Law & Civics Education
University of MaineSchool of Law
246 Deering Ave.
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