Student-led mediation helps to resolve conflict

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 1/12/00.

Mediation Disputes in the school hallway are common occurrences in most schools. Fighting, crying, walking away, or ignoring a problem doesn't solve the problem. Conflicts can be settled by a third party...a neutral person...a mediator.

The Paynesville Area Middle School has been working with a team of students to become mediators for their peers. The object of mediation is to help each person listen to the other person's side of the story so that they can see the whole story and not only their point of view.

Middle school students practice a mock mediation at a library table. The mediators are Amanda Glenz (left), Heidi Olmscheid (partially hidden at right). The mock disputants are Matt Larson (back to camera) and Mike Mueller (center). Laura Weidner sits behind and observes.

According to Deb Gillman, middle school principal, the idea has been floating around for a long time. "I first heard about a program called "Mediation for Kids" about five years ago," she said. "At different teacher workshops, we would hear more about the program which made it sound more and more like something we wanted to use here."

The concept was introduced in the spring of 1999 to the Paynesville students. "Sarah Winter started working with the Youth Advisory Council students before she left," Gillman said. "Then Nancy Landmark, a local attorney, asked if there wasn't something she could volunteer to do in the schools. With her mediation background, the timing was perfect for her to step in and help train the students to become mediators," Gillman added.

There are three students from each grade level in the middle school that have been trained to be mediators. They are sixth graders: Shawn Reinke, Laura Weidner, and Matt Larson; seventh graders: Mike Mueller, Maggie McCarron, and Jason Wendroth; eighth graders: Brian Korman, Heidi Olmscheid, and Amanda Glenz.

The students spent a total of six hours in training with Landmark learning what it takes to be a good mediator. "Through role plays, they got a feel for different situations," Gillman said.

Situations used were based on real life instances such as: somebody started a rumor, somebody got into my locker, somebody is a persistent pest, destruction of property, or theft.

The student mediators have a step by step training list to follow. The rules help keep the students focused on the situation. "One important rule is no arguing in mediation. We don't want a bad situation to escalate," Gillman said. Mediators do not take sides, they are not judges, they do not look for innocence or guilt, and they do not decide solutions to the conflict.

The goals of the mediation are:
•To resolve peer disputes that interfere with the education process.
•To build a stronger sense of cooperation and school community.
•To improve the school environment by decreasing tension and hostility.
•To increase student participation and develop leadership skills.
•To develop communications, critical thinking, and practical life skills.
•To improve student-student and student-teacher relationships.
•To build self-esteem.

The students with arguments are given the option of using mediation or they can turn over their argument to Gillman if they don't want to mediate.

Gillman said, thus far, they haven't been able to use any of their mediators. "Last year we could have used the mediation program. We ended training last spring with an actual mediation," she said. "This year the kids get cold feet and try to work out their problems without help."

"Conflict is a part of life," Gillman reminds the students. "Half of what I hear is embellishments," she added. "Mediation takes place in private and no witnesses are called. It is students working with students. There are no adults in the room."

Mediators are taught that people in disbutes do not always express their feelings with words. Mediators need to understand body language clues so they can help students recognize and understand their feelings and needs. Conflicts are not resolved until hurt feelings are fairly dealt with.

The student mediators are in the process of talking to Primetime groups, meeting with staff members, and asking for support. "They are trained and available," Gillman added.

Return to Archives