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Peer Mediation: What Is It, and Why Does East Side Need It?

By: Alexander Calafiura and Marlowe Demish

East Side student training to be peer mediators

Have you ever gotten so angry at someone, so heated in a discussion, that any reasonable resolution seemed impossible? In the moment, you’ll say things that you did not mean and do things you would never have rationally done. Sometimes, you might even feel so frustrated that you completely give up on finding any real, actualized solution to the problem.

Adults, with extensive life experience, usually resolve these issues after a relatively short period of time. But what about with elementary, middle, and high schoolers? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, twenty-nine incidents of violence occurred per thousand students in public schools during 2019-2020. More than forty million students are enrolled in K-12 public schools. That’s a LOT of students. Clearly, violent discourse is a major problem in public schools all across the United States of America.

While these rates of violence might be substantially lower at East Side, students still occasionally engage in sizable and exhaustive conflicts. Jayden Gonzales, a junior, told us that “he’s seen a lot of conflicts in the history of East Side,” and noticed that sometimes, students are just “too nervous to talk to an adult.” That’s the reason why, on the 18th and 19th of November this year, two experienced adult mediators introduced around thirty East Side high schoolers to a new concept: “peer mediation.”

Peer mediation is the practice in which a trained youth neutrally and confidentially guides parties of conflict towards a comprehensive understanding of the root cause of an issue and a mutually agreed upon resolution. The peer mediator acts as a bystander– listening, writing notes, and guiding the conversation. In the end, the students involved in the conflict get to decide on their preferred outcome.

The two mediators led a training with voluntary participation. Jayden told us he attended because he believed that “as a student, I would feel more comfortable going to a student for help than a dean.” Yet, not all students walked in feeling this way. Tenzin Choekyi, a senior, told us that she really did not “expect anything… but I think a lot of us look up to upperclassmen and having the guidance of an older person who’s been through it all would be beneficial.” A lot of students walked in simply because they wanted to learn how and why peer mediation would help their community.

Eventually, through practical and theoretical instruction, students were taught the skills that would allow them to become successful peer mediators. Soon, East Side Side will be able to feasibly and efficiently launch the program! Even so, not all students felt the same way after the training. Tenzin Choekyi told us that she is “not that confident yet. It’s a huge responsibility, but if there is no else better, I’d gladly do it.” On the other hand, Jayden is excited to finally get started. He told us, “I’m waiting for an assignment so I can really see how I can put what I learned to the test, and whether I’m actually a good peer mediator or not.” Soon, major conflicts at East Side will be seamlessly resolved through effective student peer mediators and most importantly, student leaders.

But why is peer mediation so important? Chris, a dean on the Culture Team at East Side, told us that he thinks “having students hear messages from their peers about healthy relationships and how to cope with them and disagreements will have a larger impact on them than with some of the adults.” In fact, documented research from the University of Maine shows that intervention from an adult can sometimes prove to be stressful and too disciplinarian. Peer mediation prevents students from having feelings of “alienation, disenfranchisement, and powerlessness.”

Chris, also adds that a “lot of the kids are here from 6-12, and they hear the same voices from the adults, and it can be repetitive to hear the same voices over and over… That extra level of support can really help us… the goal long-term is to have this as a seamless program that is embedded into our culture. And I think we’re going to get there pretty fast.” In the future, students will be empowered to ask for help and come up with genuine, independent solutions to their problems. East Side will become a better, brighter, and safer place!

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