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Avoiding conflicts in schools
Stafford's peer mediation program helps students resolve little problems before they become big ones

LEE WOOLF
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Date published: 2/23/2005

By LEE WOOLF

IT SEEMS TO ME the peer mediation program for Stafford County school students is a concept that belongs in the Good Ideas Hall of Fame.

But you may disagree. In fact, you may disagree so strongly that you want to punch me in the nose and kick my backpack down the hall.

So, here's what we do.

We agree to sit down with two trained student mediators and talk through our disagreement. I can explain my thoughts and feelings without interruption. Then you can express your side of the issue, also without interruption.

Then the two of us--with help from the mediators--come up with a list of possible resolutions to our dispute. We consider anything and everything. Then we pare down that list to just the most practical means to reconcile our differences. Lastly, the mediators put the agreement in writing for both of us to sign.

That's peer mediation, in a nutshell.

In Stafford, there are teams of student mediators in place at all 15 elementary schools and at two middle schools. Interest in the program has been expressed at other schools, as well, according to Carol Dexter, the substance-abuse prevention counselor for Stafford County Public Schools.

Dexter has a long association with the peer mediation program, which has existed in the county for 10 years. On Peer Mediation Day last month, about 150 student mediators from throughout the county came together for workshops on brainstorming to resolve conflicts and on active listening.

"We have anywhere from 12 to 20 mediators at each school," Dexter said. "It works well in high schools, but scheduling is a problem. So, for now, fitting the program into an elementary school day is more practical.

"The process is very consistent. But the way they use it may vary from school to school. The key is to get everyone to buy into the system. That means the staff, students and administration. When all three groups are referring problems for mediations, then the program can really get going."


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