Conflict is a reality in any school environment, and educators know that it is a distraction to the learning process. At the Forest Road Elementary School in District 30, students help each other solve their problems, a process known as peer mediation.
School psychologist Sonya Jackson oversees a group of 14 mediators, who step in when two of their peers are in need of conflict resolution. The mediators are fifth and sixth graders, and have been selected by their teachers for demonstrating leadership and problem solving skills.
Before they can settle their first fight, the mediators receive 12 weeks of training where Jackson reviews typical problems that can develop between two students at school. They are also taught ways to help others express themselves, such as through “feeling words” or colors. “We do a lot of role playing,” she said. “The training has to be intense.”
During lunch and recess, there will be at least two peer mediators on duty, which means if a conflict arises, they are called into action. The mediators can be identified by their purple T-shirts.
This year, Jackson said there have been 14 mediation sessions. Three have been requested by teachers. “Most of the students are requesting mediation on their own,” she said. “Usually after a mediation session, the conflict is resolved.”
Jackson explained that these sessions can keep conflicts from escalating further. She students in mediation are asked to listen to the other’s perspective. Then the mediators try to work out a solution.
“The students are more receptive to what their peers are saying,” she said about the effectiveness of the program. “When it comes from a peer, it’s more real the advice that they’re getting.”
Jackson said the average mediation session takes 15 to 20 minutes. She said it is important to select mediators who are objective, and not someone who is friends with one of the students involved in the conflict.
Fifth-grader Ameena Qadri, who has helped resolved a few conflicts so far this year, said she has learned valuable communication skills by serving as a mediator. It also gives her a sense of satisfaction. “It felt good helping other people,” she said. “I feel happy for the people who become friends again.”