Peer Mediation in Schools
Peer mediation programs in schools train students in basic mediation skills so they can facilitate problem solving conferences with fellow students.
Contributor: Marge Bleiweis
I started working with peer mediation in Fairfax County Schools in 1988. At that time, peer mediation was new to the county even though it had started earlier in other parts of the country as well as other nearby schools. However, Fairfax County schools embraced the concept and by 1992 there were enough schools interested and involved to hold a Student Mediation Conference at George Mason University. The Institute for Conflict Resolution (I-CAR, now S-CAR) and NVMS were co-sponsors and were strong partners in ensuring the success of peer mediation programs in the schools. The conference continued for more than 20 years, bringing together in some years more than 2000 peer mediators from around the region.
Peer mediation programs operate in a number of different ways. When I worked at Fairfax County schools they used a variety of programs. The first type is a cadre program, where a select group of students is pulled together and given special training. These students meet weekly with the mediation sponsor, usually the school counselor. They receive intense training in mediation skills and practice – 20 to 30 hours. Once trained, they meet weekly to practice and are available to mediate disputes between fellow students. Mediation sessions in the elementary schools are supervised by the mediation coordinator, who also provides the intake for mediation and arranges the schedule. Mediators work in teams.
Another model is to offer classroom instruction to all students around conflict resolution and peer mediation skills. Selected students may then be called upon to provide peer mediation formally. Students are encouraged to use the skills informally.
Many high schools and middle schools offer a peer mediation class. This is usually a semester or a full year elective. Students learn conflict resolution theory and skills as well as mediation skills and practice. They provide mediation services in their school and may even help train younger students at nearby schools.
Mediation programs teach students better ways to communicate and solve problems. Students learn to listen and understand another point of view. They gain skills in paraphrasing, summarizing and reframing. They are able to follow steps in problem solving and use negotiation strategies. Research shows that students who are specifically trained in these skills are able to use them effectively in their relationships both in and out of school. They become valuable life skills which contribute to their emotional intelligence. Research also has shown that students who participate in peer mediation as disputants also learn these skills. (Robert Harris, 2002)
The benefits of peer mediation programs are that students are empowered to solve their own disputes and take responsibility for their relationships with their peers. Schools with strong programs, where it is part of the culture of the school, show improved classroom climates and lower incidents of student violence.
Current and Former Conflict Resolution Specialists for FCPS : Kristen Woodward (current Specialist), Joan Packer, Marge Bleiweis and Robert Harris
About the Author:
Marge Bleiweis has been a mediator with NVMS since 1990. She is certified for GDC as well as Circuit Court Family and J&DR Court. Marge is also a Restorative Justice facilitator. AT NVMS, she mediates in Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun small claims court and is a family mediator. She is a past president of the board.
Marge was a school counselor in FCPS from 1985 to 2002. During that time, she helped develop conflict resolution materials for Elementary school counselors and started peer mediation programs. From 2002-2008 she was the Conflict Resolution Specialist. As such, she trained staff as mediators and helped them run peer mediation programs in schools. She introduced restorative justice concepts to staff and helped start a pilot program at Westfield HS. During her tenure, NVMS began partnering with FCPS to provide RJ services. Marge has taught Conflict Resolution for Schools classes as an adjunct instructor for NOVA Southeastern University and Trinity College, DC.