The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VI, 4/07

in this issue

A Change of Seasons

Richard Cohen Interested in Working Abroad in 2008

Responses to "Not Just the Hair Club President"

About Us

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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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Happy Spring and welcome to the penultimate issue of The School Mediator for 2006-2007.

This month's issue explores the fact that these are difficult days for peer mediation programs and those who care about them.

Please send along your thoughts and experiences. The best part of writing this newsletter is hearing from you.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • A Change of Seasons

  • It was bleak around here recently.

    The melted snow revealed scattered rubble on the curbs and twisted stalks in the gardens.

    The sky was often dark and gray, and the cold rain felt even colder, Spring having lowered our guards and raised our expectations.

    It took a nudge from a colleague, however, for me to notice that it was bleak in other ways, too.

    I was attending the wonderful Inter-American Summit on Conflict Resolution Education when she introduced herself and suggested that I write about the sad state of peer mediation in the US. She explained that her own peer mediation efforts were barely functional after years of financial neglect.

    I must say, I hadn't noticed this "sad state."

    Sure, it is slower than usual around our office, but I didn't see this as part of a bigger picture.

    Then I looked more closely:

    · Carole Close, whose pioneering school mediation effort in Cleveland was featured at the conference, expressed apprehension that her program, already greatly reduced in size, would be eliminated altogether in the next contract negotiation.

    · Two responses to a previous newsletter were from former peer mediation coordinators. Their respective school systems had previously funded full-time mediation coordinators in every middle and high school in their large districts. Now, neither system has any peer mediation programs at all.

    · The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, a long time sponsor of peer mediation programs in selected schools, has recently decided to reassess its priorities (and lay off its peer mediation staff in the meantime).

    · A recent email from a coordinator reads in part: "The powers that be have killed our peer mediation program. Our test scores are low and our district is in major financial crisis with talk about closing schools, cutting teachers, etc. Add to that few jobs in town, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, high teen pregnancy rate, and an unacceptably high school drop-out rate, and you can see where peer mediation falls on the importance scale. The grant money that funded us has dried up. It's extremely upsetting."

    It appears that the peer mediation field, at least here in the United States, is living through a winter of sorts.

    Perhaps for the first time ever, more peer mediation efforts are shutting their doors each year than opening them.

    The fact that peer mediation--this most popular and effective approach to helping students resolve conflicts--is suffering says a great deal about the state of education in America.

    And the news is not good.

    These appear to be dark days in public schools, at least where I live. The soon to implode standards movement has everyone--students, teachers, administrators--more stressed than I can remember. Creativity is down; worksheets and rote learning are up.

    The conservative administration in Washington, now into its seventh year, has incrementally reduced funding for all school programs that don't jibe with its narrow agenda, peer mediation among them. Local budget shortfalls mean tougher contract negotiations, larger classes, and looming layoffs.

    I know veteran educators who are changing careers out of frustration.

    I suspect that many in our small field are feeling the loss, disappointment and frustration expressed by our colleague at the conference.

    But though we may be down, I have faith that we are not out.

    The other day my colleagues and I began conducting a peer mediation training in a local high school.

    The last time we worked in this particular school, and the last time it offered peer mediation services to its students, was ten years ago.

    Three principals have come and gone in the interim.

    The staff we had trained, some of whom have since risen in the school's hierarchy, never forgot peer mediation.

    They remember the relief of student parties who begin angry and afraid, and leave mediation with the sense that they are safe and respected; the pride of student mediators who guide their peers through this passage; and the satisfaction of working in a school that demonstrates its belief in young people by giving them the tools and the space to make important decisions.

    These educators are excited about implementing a peer mediation program once again.

    Peer mediation heals relationships, teaches essential skills, and changes lives. It makes schools, and the people in them, better.

    Peer mediation will endure.

    This may not be our best season, but seasons change.

    The other morning as I walked my kids to school, all of us bundled in winter coats, I noticed bulbs pushing their leaves through the soil.

    Was that a bird song I heard through my wool cap?

    How is your peer mediation effort weathering these times? How are you doing? Please share your thoughts and experiences. We'd all like to hear from you.

  • Richard Cohen Interested in Working Abroad in 2008
  • Richard Cohen is hoping to work outside the United States for four months between July 2008 and January 2009. If you or your organization would benefit from having Richard's expertise close at hand, please follow the link below.

    More Info...

  • Responses to "Not Just the Hair Club President"

  • We received just one response to last month's newsletter about the importance of student mediators using mediation services themselves...

    This issue arises every year and there are always different reasons why my mediators are hesitant to use mediation for their own conflicts.

    Two of the more common are: 1. they are embarrassed that they can't resolve their own issues, and 2. they feel that it might reflect on their ability as mediators. One of my newer mediators once asked if she would be "thrown out as a mediator" if she used mediation herself too often.

    I try to discuss this issue in one of my after-school meetings, and it usually results in more mediators using mediation themselves. Inevitably, however, I have some mediators who are confused or concerned about this.

    Thanks for the reminder. I will bring this up in the next meeting!

    Judi Curcio
    Tenney Middle School
    Methuen, MA

  • About Us
  • For twenty-three 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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    Post us: 134w Standish Road,
    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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