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Peer Mediation Brings Students Together

Students learn how to help other students resolve conflicts.

Christie and Emily have a problem. They were best friends until Wendy came along. After Wendy moved in, Christie started doing things with her and not seeing Emily. Emily felt bad and started saying things behind Christie’s back, which made Christie feel bad. It all came to a head when they had a shouting match in the school hallway one day.

Scenes like these are played out in schools all over, with students of all ages.

In this case, Christie and Emily aren’t real. They are characters, played by Cecelia Kimber and Kelly McFarland, who were doing a mock mediation during a peer mediation seminar held this week at the South County Center. In a real situation, they might have been referred to a peer mediator for a mediation. Lindsey Baumann and Sandra Vargas played the role of the mediators. Implementing the four rules of mediation: Do not interrupt; no name calling or physical fighting; agree to try to solve the problem; and be as honest as you can; they helped the two girls to resolve their conflict.

The mock mediation was the culmination of a half-day workshop which was comprised of three break-out sessions, mock mediation and lunch. In all, about a hundred students participated in the peer mediation summit. Jill Tucker, guidance counselor from Carl Sandburg, led the session on reframing; Shannon Jones, counselor from Bucknell, talked about paraphrasing; and Deb Storck worked with students on Identifying issues and needs.

Peer mediation has been a big part of the elementary schools in the West Potomac Pyramid. It has been very effective, but Linda Gerberich and other elementary school counselors realized that it wasn’t being carried through the pyramid. This week’s workshop, which included students from both Carl Sandburg and West Potomac, is a step in the direction of having peer mediation available for students from Kindergarten to senior year.

COMING TOGETHER with the middle and high school students were elementary school students from Waynewood, Stratford Landing, Bucknell, Fort Hunt and Hollin Meadows. The program was put together by Linda Gerberich and Colleen Hooper from Stratford Landing and Katy Sokolove from Waynewood. It was funded by the South County Youth Network.

“We’re working on tiering,” Hooper said. “West Potomac is just starting their peer mediation program and Carl Sandburg is getting their program going again. There are so many components of character development, but one of them has to do with resolving conflicts.”

Hooper said that West Potomac selected ESOL students as the first peer mediators, and that Rima Vesilind is supportive of the program. Some students were self-selected, others appointed by teachers.

“I helped two students last week,” said Laura Gray, sixth grader from Waynewood. “A boy was picking on a girl, and they figured out what to do with our help.”

Gray was with Michaela Berkon and Kate Paullin, also in sixth grade at Waynewood.

“I think it really works. People can solve problems and be friends again,” Berkon said.

Paullin hasn’t done a mediation yet, but said, “I think it’s kind of fun and hope I will do soon.”

A group of fifth-grade boys from Stratford Landing had similar perspectives.

“I think it’s really fun. I try to help kids solve conflicts,” said Will Funk, who was wearing a pin that said, “When I listen, people talk.”

“The types of people you mediate affects how you mediate,” Funk said.

Seth Ammons thought that the seminar was good, and Grant Cohen said, “I like the workshop. The program went really well. Sometimes it’s hard to work out problems when people don’t want to talk.”

Two of the students from West Potomac, Claudia Alvarez and Mina Nekoueian, enjoyed the program.

“I have a better attitude and respect other people,” Nekoueian said.

Alvarez said, “I know now how to respect other people and how they feel when they’re in trouble.”