With the dramatic increase in social media use by teenagers, school administrators and counselors sometimes fill their days resolving student issues that can quickly escalate. During my first year as Principal of Putnam Valley High School (PVHS), my Assistant Principal and I discussed the benefits of implementing a peer mediation program to reduce discipline issues and decrease severe consequences such as suspensions. As a former teacher, trained in peer mediation, I knew that the program did an outstanding job of training students in how to resolve their conflicts while giving students a better understanding of themselves and others.
Mediation sessions can bring great insight to the mediator and the students in conflict. It gives each person the opportunity to learn valuable lessons in tolerance, patience, and empathy. Mediation sessions also help students to understand the results of their actions because they hear directly from the person they have harmed. The program also teaches mediators lifelong communication and leadership skills that they can transfer to their everyday lives.
To begin a program at PVHS, we needed some guidance and contacted Mark Weiss of Operation Respect. Once we did some initial planning, we gathered a team of enthusiastic teachers who are passionate about restorative justice and Mark trained them in the protocols of peer mediation. Teachers then nominated students who they felt would be good mediators for the program. They chose a wide variety of students who represent all peer groups and age levels.
During the winter, we held two days of training. Mark and Marcy May, one of Operation Respect’s consultants, worked with over 30 students and adults in the strategies of mediation. The participants practiced the art of good communication: listening attentively, paraphrasing skills, and effective questioning techniques. This spring, we held our first successful mediations with favorable resolution for all involved.
Renewed Commitment to Peer Mediation
We renewed our commitment to the program with a “Peer Mediation Pizza Kick-Off” in April. Mark reminded students of the mediation process, the importance of empathy, fairness, and using good listening and effective questioning to get at the root of the problem. As part of the excitement, we also designed and dedicated a unique peer mediation room for the sessions with colorful posters and artwork.
The teachers and students are very enthusiastic about the program and have high hopes for its increased utilization to decrease conflict in our school community. We also look forward to training additional students, including incoming freshman next fall.
At PVHS we believe giving students a voice in their school helps to create active citizens who take a role in solving problems in their peer group, in their community, and in their country.
Written by guest blogger, Sandra Intrieri, Principal, Putnam Valley High School
An Interview with PVHS Peer Mediators