Why is there so much violence among America’s youth and what effect will it have on society in the future? After a girl jilted a 13-year-old boy from Jonesboro, Arkansas, he warned friends he had “a lot of killing to do,” and a day later, police said he and his 11-year-old cousin lured classmates out of school with a false fire alarm, then mowed them down with gunfire. While this recent incident may be an aberration, it represents a cultural shift where violence is deemed an appropriate response to anger and frustration.
The Clark County Social Service (CCSS) Neighborhood Justice Center’s School Peer Mediation Program is taking a proactive response to the increase in school violence. The program teaches students how to use alternative methods of conflict resolution to avoid disputes and reduce crime while encouraging a healthy, more self-sufficient neighborhood. Students learn mediation, critical thinking, problem solving, life, and conflict resolution skills. These skills lead to improved values and an ability to come to peaceful resolutions when faced with adversity, peer-pressure and conflict in their everyday lives. These children function better within their peer group, families, and neighborhoods, so that viable community connections are formed.
CCSS’s program, in collaboration with the Clark County School District, began in 1993 starting with two schools. Presently, there are 42 schools participating, and more join this ongoing program yearly. Funding comes from a variety of sources – Title VI through the Clark County School District, a Weed and Seed grant, a Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention grant, Title XX, and the Byrne Memorial Grant.
School Mediation Specialists conduct extensive training for students, faculty, staff, and parents who are involved in the program. All students are taught conflict resolution skills and the student body at large selects peer mediators, with assistance from school faculty, to ensure representation of a cross-section of the entire student body. Peer mediators provide models of effective communication and cooperation for fellow students, and work in pairs, on the playground and in the lunchroom, to help students resolve problems.
Methods used to evaluate program effectiveness include measuring the change of school climate, and tracking the number of mediations occurring during the program period, and the percentage agreement rate of disputes resolved. From 1993 to date, 6,400 mediations were attempted and 5,778 (or slightly more than 90 percent) were resolved.
The School Peer Mediation Program uses peer pressure in an innovative and positive manner. The use of peer mediation to resolve student-to-student disputes has reduced incident of violence, improved communications among students, teachers, administrators and parents, reduced faculty time related to disputes and promoted a safer school climate. Peer mediators have stated that the skills they learned in the program help them to get along better with their parents, siblings and neighbors.