Student Mediators Seek to Reduce School Violence

Posted: November 30, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: December 1, 2009 at 1:18 pm

By James Greif

High school violence has been an ever-growing problem across the country, leaving teachers and administrators searching for solutions.

Violent incidents in schools often escalate from seemingly trivial events where student intervention would have significantly helped defuse the situation. For this reason, peer mediation programs have grown in popularity in an effort to resolve conflicts and help students become vocal leaders against violence.

George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have been leaders in training students in conflict resolution techniques. The two recently joined forces to co-sponsor “Pathways to Peace: Mediators as Leaders,” this year’s Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference for high school student peer mediators.

ICAR Director Andrea Bartoli speaks during the conference.

ICAR Director Andrea Bartoli speaks during the conference. Photo by Evan Cantwell

More than 300 high school mediators and staff members from 17 area schools came to the Johnson Center last week to participate in the conference. These students regularly use conflict resolution techniques to help classmates resolve conflicts nonviolently and encourage safe school environments.

“Peer mediation programs in schools provide a tremendous service and support to students and teachers,” says Joan Packer, conflict resolution specialist at Fairfax County Public Schools. “The programs improve school climate, build positive relationships among students and teachers, and ultimately enhance student learning and potential. The value of the conference comes not just from the skills the students learn, but the numerous, vast ripple effects to all the people around them.”

<p>Facilitator Phillip Thompson guides discussion during a workshop. Photo by Evan Cantwell</p>

Facilitator Phillip Thompson guides discussion during a workshop. Photo by Evan Cantwell

The workshops were led by experienced mediators and educators, including several presenters from FCPS and ICAR. Presenters taught students how to mediate difficult situations where issues involving ethnicity, race, gender or religion arise. Students also learned about exclusion, harassment, cyber-bullying and the concept of restorative justice.

“I never knew how hard mediation was, nor did I know how effective it could be if done right,” commented senior Kyle Moriarty.

“The conference workshops reinforce the lessons learned in the schools and let young mediators meet and exchange information with their peers,” says Libby Thompson, undergraduate program administrator at ICAR. “The information learned at the conference will carry over into all phases of the students’ lives and are valuable tools they take with them into their future work. ICAR and George Mason University are proud to be long-time supporters of these conferences.”

During the last 16 years, more than 20,000 students and staff members have attended the annual Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference. The conference gathers high school students to network, learn and share ideas and programs with peer mediators in other schools throughout the region. Many student mediators also co-facilitate workshops at a similar elementary and middle school mediation conference that takes place every March at Mason.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu