Conflict resolution

Justin Jones is a big be­liev­er in the peer me­di­ation pro­gram at Hamilton Dis­ston Ele­ment­ary School.

The eighth-grader, a me­di­at­or in the pro­gram, re­calls one case of a group of stu­dents who were fight­ing among them­selves. “They came to me­di­ation and walked out shak­ing hands,” he said.

In mid-Decem­ber, Jody Green­blatt vis­ited Dis­ston, at 6801 Cot­tage St. in Ta­cony, to learn about the pro­gram, which has been in ex­ist­ence for three years. Green­blatt was there be­cause she works with the School Re­form Com­mis­sion on safety and dis­cip­line is­sues. 

Prin­cip­al Gregory Shan­non as­sembled the 25 peer me­di­at­ors in a classroom on Dec. 12 and told them they are a point of pride in the school. He put them on par with mem­bers of stu­dent gov­ern­ment and the Dis­ston Dragons, a group of stu­dents ded­ic­ated to cre­at­ing a pos­it­ive school cli­mate.


“The young­er stu­dents look up to you guys,” he said.

Peer me­di­at­ors can join once they reach sixth grade. They take part in two days of in­tens­ive train­ing. The train­ing is on­go­ing once they are ap­proved by the school.

The young people handle every­day is­sues such as bul­ly­ing, fight­ing and ru­mors.

“It’s a lot of, ‘He said, she said’ drama,” said eighth-grader Kay­la Ap­pleg­ate.

Stu­dents who en­gage in es­pe­cially egre­gious acts are sus­pen­ded or ex­pelled. Some are eli­gible for re­in­state­ment me­di­ation.

Two me­di­at­ors are as­signed to each case. As­sign­ments are made on a ro­tat­ing basis.

Dis­putes are settled the same day, or the next day if they oc­cur close to dis­missal.

Both parties are brought to the stu­dent ser­vices room to try to re­solve their dif­fer­ences.

“Some­times, they come mad and some­times they are pretty calm,” Justin said.

The agit­at­ors can de­cline to at­tend.

“If they don’t come to us, it goes to Mr. Booth­man,” Justin said of George Booth­man, the dean of stu­dents. “He’s an ex-cop.”

At the me­di­ation ses­sions, par­ti­cipants re­ceive strikes every time they in­ter­rupt, ar­gue, fight or talk to each oth­er in­stead of dir­ectly to the me­di­at­ors.

“If they get three strikes, they go to Mr. Booth­man,” said sev­enth-grader Mel­lisha Har­rigan.

Most times, though, Booth­man does not have to get in­volved.

The me­di­at­ors use a pre-prin­ted check­list of ques­tions to try to get to the bot­tom of the dis­pute. The case ends when the me­di­at­ors be­lieve the com­batants have settled their dif­fer­ences.

“They sign an agree­ment that they won’t carry it out of school,” said eighth-grader Shaylece Smith.

“It’s like a con­tract,” said sev­enth-grader Aaliyah Briggs.

Teach­ers Cindy Rosen and Grace Scafide over­see the pro­gram. They be­lieve the me­di­at­ors gain re­spect and learn con­flict res­ol­u­tion and how to be­come lead­ers and show poise in tough situ­ations.

“When they’re in­volved in me­di­ation ses­sions, they’re de­vel­op­ing lifelong skills,” Scafide said.

Rosen and Scafide at­tend the me­di­ation ses­sions but do not in­ter­ject com­ments.

“The meet­ings are totally run by stu­dents,” Rosen said. “It’s just amaz­ing to watch.”

Scafide said the me­di­ation pro­gram is suc­cess­ful be­cause ses­sions are held daily, not weekly, thus nip­ping the prob­lem be­fore it gets out of hand. She also gives much of the cred­it to the me­di­at­ors.

“They’re an as­set to the school,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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