To view the article in the March 2015 issue of Kohala Mountain News, click here.
Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Some people seek to avoid or withdraw from conflict, taking a more passive approach, while others confront conflict head on, sometimes with verbal or physical aggression. Students in North Kohala are learning to address conflict in a proactive, positive way through peer mediation. Peer mediation is both a program and a process where two or more students involved in a dispute (disputants) meet in a private, safe, and confidential setting to work out problems with the assistance of two trained student mediators. West Hawaii Mediation Center, located in Waimea, is the organization that provides the training and support to get these programs up and running in West and North Hawaii schools. All three Kohala schools offer peer mediation to their students.
Peer mediators, who work in pairs, do not make decisions or try to solve the problem for the disputants, but rather work towards a win-win solution for both parties in order to avoid further trouble. Peer mediators at elementary schools take part in a 2.5 hour training and then are present on the playground to help students resolve issues that come up during recess. Kohala Elementary School’s program is coordinated by principal Danny Garcia.
At the middle and high school level the mediator training is over 12 hours and focuses on the nature of conflict, positive communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, and active listening. During the final day of training the peer mediators participate in many ‘mock’ mediation sessions and are mentored by adult mediators or trained counselors. After the peer mediators are trained and the program is ready to launch, anyone at the school can refer students to mediation, including the students themselves. But an important element of mediation is that it is always voluntary.
Positive outcomes at the school level include reduced disciplinary actions, a decrease in fighting and violence, and a greater sense of peacefulness and security within the school community. Students who serve as mediators learn important skills that they will use throughout their lives and most mediators feel very proud of the sevice that they are offering to their peers – and they take it very seriously. “The peer mediation program has been a great asset to Kohala High School and the mediators have demonstrated tremendous professionalism when facilitating mediations,” said Jennifer Marlowe, who coordinates the program at Kohala High School.
Lauren Canton, who helped to establish the middle school program, feels that “Peer Mediation helps students resolve conflict in a peaceful way using respectful communication. It helps prevent fights at our school and reduces violence, creating a happier and more peaceful school environment. Through peer mediation, students learn to express their feelings in a productive way and the training that peer mediators receive gives them important tools that will help them to develop and maintain healthy relationships in their own lives.”
West Hawaii Mediation Center is currently working with six elementary, four middle, and two high schools in West and North Hawaii. Robyn Skudlarek, a Kohala resident, is the Youth Programs Coordinator for the Center and says that “the pilot program for middle and high schools has really taken off. We started with Kohala Middle in late 2012 and have added 5 more schools in just over two years. It’s been an exciting and busy time, especially so because we took eight middle and high school mediators from North Kohala schools to the 28th Annual Peer Mediation Conference in Honolulu in mid-February.”
The conference brings together middle and high school peer mediators from around the state for a day of presentations and mini workshops, most of which are led by the students themselves. This year seven schools, totaling approximately 150 students and program coordinators, participated in the conference which took place at the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus. It is very inspiring to see so many young people who are committed to creating more peaceful schools and the event links together kids from many different backgrounds and island communities. KMS mediator Kayleen Cordeiro was grateful for the chance to interact with high school mediators who have more experience doing mediations. “I got to observe how they do mediations and what helps them when they are struggling. I gained a lot of knowledge. The conference was amazing.”
Attending the conference also helped the kids understand that they are part of something larger. High school mediator Patrick Nelson said, “It was eye opening. I learned a lot and saw how successful these programs can be.” Many students were inspired by the presentations by Kapaa High School which has formed a very strong, active peer mediation and peaceful schools program over the past seven years. Their message to their fellow mediators was that they all needed to get more involved, to stop being bystanders to teasing and bullying, and to be part of the solution by being active leaders in their schools. “It motivated me to speak up and stand for others,” said middle school mediator Mya Bartsch.
Peer mediation is one of many tools that schools can use to create a more peaceful school environment. One of the most important tasks in establishing a mediation program is simply getting the word out to the students and the community, making sure that as many people as possible understand that this is a viable, and most importantly, confidential, way to solve problems with other people.
As high school mediator Anela Medeiros said: “I think it’s important that students understand that there is a mature way to settle their issues without letting it escalate to extremes. If they are willing to talk it out and be open-minded about solving their problem, peer mediation would be a great choice.”
If you would like more information about peer mediation programs or adult mediation services in North and West Hawaii contact West Hawaii Mediation Center at 885-5525 or www.whmediaiton.org