Chicago Heights School District 170's Roosevelt School has initiated a peer mediation program designed to assist students in addressing issues that might negatively affect their school experience.
Peer mediation is problem solving by youth with youth. It is a process in which two students involved in a dispute meet in a private, safe and confidential setting to work out problems with the assistance of two trained student mediators.
At Roosevelt, 15 students in grades four through eight were trained to serve as mediators in the program. The training focused specifically on conflict resolution and problem-solving techniques.
The mediation process is voluntary for both sides. Peer mediators do not make unilateral decisions but instead, but work with the students in conflict and help them work towards a win-win resolution for both sides to avoid further trouble. Administrators in charge of discipline incorporate this conflict resolution process into their strategies as well.
"In schools and communities encompassing nearly every demographic group the peer mediation process has proven effective, changing the way students understand and resolve conflict in their lives," said School District 170 Superintendent Tom Amadio.
Changes engendered by the program often are transferable outside of the classroom and usually include improved self-esteem, improved listening and critical thinking skills, an improved climate for learning, and a reduction in outstanding disciplinary actions.
"We, at the district level, cannot overstate the importance of the "hands on" element of students working with other students to resolve these often volatile situations," said Jill Raymond, the district's Assistant Superintendent of Special Services.
"Having students "buy in" to the peer mediation process, whether being trained as a mediator or agreeing to participate in the exercise, is a great step towards moderating issues of misunderstanding, hostility, and aggression that undermine the learning process," Raymond noted.
Lori Davis, a sixth-grade teacher who coordinates the program at Roosevelt, is excited with the initial success of the program and with the commitment made by the students who have accepted the responsibility of serving as mediators.
"The peer mediation experience provides students with the tools they need to resolve their problems--big or small. It is our hope that these skills will translate from the school experience to every aspect of our students' lives," Davis said.
"The students trained as mediators believe that their training will prove beneficial in defusing potentially volatile situations and in helping students to learn valuable life skills.
Mary Ellen Lacien, of the SD170 Culture and Climate Department, trained the students in the peer mediation process and continues to work closely with students involved in every aspect of the SD170 Peer Mediation and Peace Programs.
"The students who completed the peer mediation training worked very hard and will be an asset to Roosevelt School," LaCien said.
"They will be a vital element in assisting our district's mission to equip students with the social and emotional skills needed to be more successful at school and in life."
One of the mediators, sixth-grade student Betsy Ortiz, believes that her training will help other students learn how to handle stressful situations wherever they occur.
"Peer mediation training was a life-changing event and opened my eyes," Ortiz said.
"It was an amazing educational experience that showed me how ordinary kids like myself could make a difference by helping others at my school to get along."