banner - school mediator 1 Vol. IX  10/09
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In This Issue

Recession Hits Peer Mediation Programs

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book - the school mediator's field guide

The School Mediator's Field Guide: Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges

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book - the school mediator's field guide

Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools

A complete guide to implementing, operating, and maintaining peer mediation programs.

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About Us
For twenty-five 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.

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Welcome to the October issue of The School Mediator, our first issue for the 09-10 school year.

It's hard to believe, but School Mediation Associates turned 25 this September!  We are excited to introduce the new logo and newsletter design we created to celebrate this milestone.  We hope you like it too.

This month we explore how to maintain strong peer mediation programs despite the global recession's impact on US schools.

Please send along your thoughts and experiences.  Hearing from you is always a treat.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

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Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
Recession Hits Peer Mediation Programs
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With 3 out of the 7 guys in my neighborhood poker game laid off this year, it came as no surprise that as of September, the US unemployment rate is the highest it has been in a generation.  

Painful signs of the two-year-old global recession are everywhere in the United States, and education is certainly not immune:  budgets have been cut (or at best kept level), teachers laid off, and state aid to cities and towns reduced.  And things are likely to get worse in the short term.

This is decidedly bad news for peer mediation efforts.

For despite the fact that peer mediation teaches young people skills and attitudes that are essential for their success, this program is still too often treated as an "extra," as work that is marginal to schools' core mission.

Programs are typically funded by state and local grants (not out of school systems' budgets) and coordinated by teachers or counselors who do so in addition to their other responsibilities.

And today, there is simply less of both resources, human and financial.

Having been forced to cut staff, schools are now attempting to accomplish the same work with fewer people.  As a result, many peer mediation coordinators have additional responsibilities this academic year.  Counselors, for example, may now manage larger caseloads, or teach classes (classes that in some instances were formerly taught by colleagues who were laid off).  These educators simply have less time to devote to peer mediation.

There is also less money available to fund peer mediation efforts.  This impacts coordinators' stipends/salaries and training schedules.  Here in the US, the harshest blow is likely still to come:  The Safe and Drug Free Schools grant, an entitlement that has reliably supported peer mediation for a decade, is slated to be eliminated completely next year.

But all is not gloom and doom.  There are peer mediation programs that are faring well. 

Some systems had the foresight and commitment to create a line item in their budget to support peer mediation.  Many coordinators still have ample time to devote to their programs.  And for some administrators, peer mediation has become an integral part of how they educate students; they will find a way to sustain peer mediation, no matter what.  

Having been close to this idea through many peaks and valleys, I feel quite certain that peer mediation will survive.  

This program effectively teaches young people how to work together and resolve their inevitable conflicts.  It has proven itself both in the hearts and minds of countless educators and students, as well as in the quantitative studies of academics.

But what can we do in the short term?  

First, continue what we have always done:  educate people about the benefits of peer mediation, both within school and in the wider community. 

Outreach and marketing are an integral part of having a successful program.  Educating students, thanking referral sources, soliciting teacher input and support, informing administrators about your successes, speaking to parent groups, reaching out to superintendents and school committee members, lobbying your and always  important work.

Second, apply strategies that will enable us to maintain healthy programs despite more limited resources.  We might:

  • train mediators less frequently
  • train a higher percentage of younger students (who provide a longer term of service)
  • be more selective about the cases you mediate, focusing on students and situations most suited to the process
  • rely on a co-coordination model, with teachers, counselors, and administrators running the program together
  • create logistical time-savers, like fixed schedules (in which pairs of mediators are assigned to specific periods or days) or mediation homerooms (which enable logistical information to be easily transmitted to student mediators)

In 1984, I could count the total number of schools that had peer mediation programs on one hand.  Today, thanks to the hard work, persistence, and courage of people like you, there are thousands of programs in schools all across the globe.

We'll need to work hard to keep peer mediation efforts thriving in the years ahead.

But that's nothing new.  We've been working hard from the start.

How are you faring?  What strategies will you employ to sustain your peer mediation program?  Please share your thoughts with us...

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