The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. III, 5/04

in this issue

Kenyan Schools Will No Longer Be Killing Grounds

Richard Cohen On The Road Again

Response to "'Transforming' Peer Mediation"

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the May issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue features the important work of Muigai Kimani and his colleagues at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Schools in Nairobi, Kenya.

This will be the last issue of Volume III, our third year of publication. I hope to devote all the "free" time I can find in June (as well as in July and August) to other writing projects. Then you'll hear from me again in the Fall.

Thanks for listening, and as always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Kenyan Schools Will No Longer Be Killing Grounds

  • The most enjoyable part of publishing "The School Mediator" is hearing from you, educators from all over the world who are applying peer mediation where you live.

    It astonishes me that this concept is now working within stable democracies as well as in countries emerging from dictatorship or civil war; in the most densely populated cities as well as in rural villages; within an environment of relative wealth as well as one of extreme poverty.

    After hearing from you, I often come away with new insights into this work, an uplifting sense of being part of a global movement, an appreciation of the many blessings in my own life, and a deep admiration for those of you who overcome tremendous obstacles to help young people.

    This month I bring your attention to work that I find particularly inspiring: that of Muigai Kimani and his colleagues at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Schools (CCROSS), based in Nairobi, Kenya.

    The first time I heard from Muigai, he implied that the infamous tragedy at Columbine High School--the apparent nadir of student behavior in schools (whose 5 year anniversary passed last month )--is not quite as low as we think.

    He subsequently provided examples of school-based violence from Kenyan schools to support his point:

    Kyanguli Secondary School
    A group of students at this school displayed their dissatisfaction with administrators and prefects (older student leaders) by setting school dormitories on fire. Sixty-seven students died, buried in a mass grave inside the school compound. Senior administrators and teachers hesitated to rescue students for fear that the young perpetrators would throw them into the blaze.

    Nyahururu High School/Ndururumo High School
    Signs of profound tension between these rival schools had been ignored or suppressed prior to 2001, when over 600 boys from Nyahururu (a boys school) invaded the girls dormitory at Ndururumo (a co-ed school) with the intent of raping the girls. After the girls' screams alerted their male classmates, a battle ensued in which students employed broken chairs, whips, stones and all manner of crude weapons. Many girls were raped, students seriously injured, and school property destroyed.

    Kikuyu Secondary School
    Strikes and riots in this under-achieving school for boys regularly spill into the community and result in the stoning of vehicles on a nearby highway. Students also accost and harass villagers, who in turn retaliate with their own violence.

    If you are as sickened by these stories as I am, you can understand why Muigai and his colleagues were compelled to found CCROSS in 2003. Currently staffed entirely by volunteers, CCROSS is a non-profit working with students, teachers and administrators to develop and promote effective conflict resolution strategies in Kenyan Schools.

    Muigai stresses one key distinction between student conflict in Kenya as compared to the West. Whereas in the latter, most student conflicts arise out of "relatively" petty interpersonal differences, in Kenya, student conflict is a form of dissent, a way of expressing opposition to the laws and norms of both school and the larger culture.

    Sadly, there is no shortage of issues about which Kenyan students would be upset. A short list includes:

    A government which until very recently did not tolerate dissent of any kind.

    An education system inherited from British colonizers whose sole focus is on producing competent workers (and whose entirely punitive approach to discipline includes corporal punishment as well as degrading manual work like uprooting tree stumps, digging pit latrines or kneeling down for long hours). More than 60% of students do not make it past primary school.

    Tribal and ethnic tensions among Kenya's citizens which are often fanned for political purposes (42 different tribes are represented among Kenya's @ 30 million citizens).

    Parents who are so consumed by poverty (2/3 of Kenyan households live on less than $1 per day) that they pay little attention to their children.

    A pervading sense among young people that there is no future for them. (Muigai wrote that students feel the system has "consigned their destiny to the dogs.")

    Despite the challenges, CCROSS has found ways to have a positive impact within each of the schools described above, applying strategies that include:

    *Conducting baseline surveys to determine the root cause of the conflicts at schools

    *Facilitating individual and group post-traumatic stress sessions

    *Initiating open assemblies (attended by teachers, administrators, and students) for airing grievances in an environment of openness, tolerance and respect

    *Training teachers as conflict managers and peer mediation coordinators

    *Training students as peer mediators to intervene in day-to-day conflicts among students

    *Establishing "peace teams" comprised of students, educators and villagers to serve as a link between community and school and spread a message of non-violent conflict resolution

    *Helping parents develop alternative disciplinary measures so that they can be proactive in resolving home and village-based disputes before they escalate at school

    *Integrating anti-violence educational campaigns into nation-wide drama and music competitions that reach 500,000 students and educators

    The obstacles CCROSS faces are great, and their resources are extremely limited. Even getting to schools, some of which are located in remote areas 240 miles (400 kilometers) away from Nairobi, can be a hardship.

    There are many ways that you can support CCROSS's efforts, among them:

    *Your school could adopt a Kenyan school, sharing advice, support, and material resources

    *Volunteer to visit Kenya and work with CCROSS for 1-6 months

    *Donate money to help CCROSS buy computers, a reliable vehicle, and other essentials

    Muigai has requested that monetary donations be sent to School Mediation Associates (make checks out to School Mediation Associates and write CCROSS in the memo section of check) at 134w Standish Road, Watertown, MA 02472, USA. We will compile the funds and wire them to CCROSS.

    Muigai Kimani can be reached directly at

    Share your thoughts and comments...

    Follow this link to view photos of Muigai, other CCROSS trainers, and Kenyan students and teachers.

  • Richard Cohen On The Road Again
  • After 8 years of years of turning down out-of-state work because I wanted to stay close to home while my kids were young, I am excited to once again accept conference keynotes and training work that require travel.

    Last month I visited Pensacola, Florida to present a keynote address to a conference of middle and high school peer mediators.

    The conference was organized by the talented Kerry Sise under the auspices of the Escambia County Community Drug and Alcohol Council. It was great fun.

    Follow the links below to view the local print media coverage of the event (three or four mis-quotes, but what can you do...)

    Pensacola News Journal
    The Independent Florida Sun

  • Response to "'Transforming' Peer Mediation"

  • We received quite a few responses to last month's issue of The School Mediator concerning the application of Transformative mediation to school-based peer mediation. I have posted a number of them below:

    I was very excited to hear about the idea of integrating the transformative style into the high school mediation process. I, too, have been concerned about young mediators' adherence to stages over really listening to what parties say, and I support the blending of the two.

    In my experience, I think students initially need the outline of the steps/stages to get the overall picture of where they are and where they're going; however, high school mediators are definitely astute enough to see the value of following the parties.

    I believe it's a matter of first developing experience and confidence in their new roles as mediators, and then offering information about the transformative style as they become comfortable in their roles.

    Teaching the transformative style is also a way of empowering young mediators to trust their intuition.

    I so enjoy The School Mediator, and often want to download the articles to share with friends off line.

    Meg Sanders
    Program Coordinator
    CREST (Conflict Resolution Essentials for School Transformation)
    Dispute Resolution Program Services
    Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations
    San Jose, California USA

    This past newsletter was very timely for me as I have just received a request from a superintendent at a nearby reservation who would like us to come in and train students this summer.

    Our center has been transforming/transformative since the mid- nineties, and we have developed a good relationship with Bush and Folger.

    One thing that concerns me are the developmental as well as systemic needs for structure when we are dealing with kids and schools.

    My experience is that kids "get it" (transformative theory), sometimes quicker than adults. But questions remain: How can we best train the trainers? What structural needs will assist schools in becoming better listeners and trusting enough to be responsive to the parties?

    I'm hoping to learn more about what is being done and will check out the web site and books available. Thank you for the thoughts and resources.

    Linda Hendrikson
    Services Coordinator
    Conflict Resolution Center
    University of North Dakota
    North Dakota USA

    I have been to some recent conferences and have been saddened by the zealous and exclusive way Transformative mediation is promoted. I did not see that in your piece, but I hope that as you explore its use, you will continue your open and exploring inquiry into ever more ways to improve what you are teaching.

    I think there are some important and valid points brought up by this new wave. But its advocates sometimes present the Transformative approach in such an exclusive and demeaning (of any other methods) way, that they contradict the lessons that are supposedly at the core of the approach.

    I have always mediated and trained in an intuitive way, but I know that having a structure or framework to branch away from was important for me.

    As was once explained to me: "To fly the plane, you must first go down the narrow runway."

    Liz Wally
    Texas USA

    I think transformative mediation is on the "right track." As someone who trained for years in the counseling field and then later in mediation, I have long compared these processes. I do see peer mediation becoming robotic and rigid, with student mediators more focused on the steps then on listening well and reflecting. The steps should be the foundation of training, and the higher impact skills like listening, reflecting feelings, clarifying, etc. can be emphasized to make for a highly effective peer mediator. The field can only gain from moving in this direction.

    Kerry Sise
    Prevention Specialist
    Escambia County Community Drug and Alcohol Council
    Pensacola, Florida USA

  • About Us
  • For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

    Call us: 617-926-0994
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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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