Guided By Students: Initial Thoughts on the Introduction of Upper School Peer Mediation at YCDS

By Mrs. Molly Wertz, Dean of Students and Middle and Upper School English Teacher

There are many times during the course of a week that adults in the school are called to help students navigate situations. We help new students navigate their schedules, help 6th graders learn to advocate for themselves with their teachers, help students balance classwork and extracurriculars.  This is a cherished part of the role of a teacher in our school.

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, however, a teacher is not always the best first responder. Students are often able to be more open and honest when speaking with peers rather than adults.

This is where peer mediation enters the picture. Peer mediation allows trained student mediators to help peers work together to resolve conflict and come up with a mutually satisfying resolution. Through a generous gift from Suzanna Anstine Norbeck ‘57, YCDS was able to bring in Richard Cohen, of School Mediation Associates, Watertown, Mass., to train nine students, grades 9-12, to be our first class of peer mediators.

The process to identify our mediators was quite competitive and highlighted the incredible leadership and caliber of a YCDS student. In the end, we found the students who best fit our need.The peer mediators for the 2017-18 school year are: Harrison Zumbrun, Jalen Gorham, Michelle Guo, Ethan Yerg, Abbey Miller, Kaylee Mustard, Trinity Jackson, Nakayla Knight, and Alex Wagonheim.

For three days last week, these students, along with Mr. Eric Fleming and myself, participated in thorough and intensive training that included active listening, removing personal bias, eliciting open and healthy  communication, honoring confidentiality, helping peers move from competitive conflict resolution to collaborative conflict resolution, and role playing… lots and lots of role playing.

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The mediators will lead students who come to mediation to navigate the twist and turns of relationships with classmates, gain empathy and understanding, and come up with a win-win resolution. The mediators do not offer advice or make judgements, but rather, they guide the parties to greater understanding and empathy. The mediators will help students understand what is at the heart of the conflict; therefore, the overwhelming majority of conflicts result in a lasting resolution. Following the training, Kaylee observed that, “Peer mediation allows students to resolve conflicts before they escalate.”

Additionally, our mediators learned life-long skills that will not only make them effective mediators for conflicts among classmates but will also help them throughout their personal life.  Jalen reflected that, “Anywhere in life, it  helps your social skills, whether it be a job interview or future relationships. It’s opened up my mind to new skills”

We are proud to be able to offer peer mediation to our student body. Peer mediation programs can be transformative to a school. “Peer mediation opens us up to a new way of trying to solve a conflict rather than just giving someone an infraction. This will really solve conflicts in a mutually beneficial way,” says Harrison. “The addition of peer mediation will help grow our community into a stronger YCDS Greyhound family,” says Abbey.

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And that is what YCDS is all about: cultivating a culture that supports individuality, nurtures growth, demands respect, and empowers our students with the skills of cooperation, empathy, and restorative resolutions. Peer mediation is one more way that we strive to meet the needs of our students and support the mission of our school. Eric Fleming and I are proud to be a part of this new program and to work with such dedicated students. This is just one more reason why I am YCDS PROUD.