By Anna Ng’15 and Murrim Shadid’15
Social media, crime, and peer pressure are just some of the reasons struggling teenagers join the Peer Mediation Program.
Peer mediation began in 1992, approximately 22 years ago, as a program to help students resolve their issues with the guide of an individual peer mediator. Teenagers are able to express inner thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged. Peer mediation programs became prominent in 1999, in response to the hate crime of a young man, Yusuf Hawkins, that happened in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
“Programs were starting citywide after the hate crime,” said Michelle Gibbens, the Peer Mediation Program advisor. “The city was attempting to develop responses to decrease violence in schools and Peer Mediation was one of them.”
According to the New York Times article, The Death of Yusuf Hawkins, 20 Years Later by Sewell Chan, Yusuf Hawkins, along with his friends, was attacked by a group of white youths after being accused of dating a neighborhood white girl. He died after being shot twice in the chest on August 23, 1989.
New Utrecht High School was the first schoool in the city to initiate Peer Mediation and bringing awareness to school officials and students about the importance of this program. Shortly afterwards, Midwood High School created its own program, which was founded by a former teacher, Janice Chance. After Ms. Chance’s retirement in 2010, Ms. Michelle Gibbens took over and has been the advisor for the past 4 years.
“I became interested in the work after experiencing a few conferences with Ms. Chance and Ms. Curran, also a former teacher in our school,” said Ms. Gibbens.
Peer Mediation is both a club and program. All mediators are volunteers and receive service credit. However, service credit isn’t the only reason members join.
“I joined mediation because I wanted to do something worthwhile during my free periods,” said Viviana Lopez ‘16, a peer mediator. “When I found out about Peer Mediation, I decided to give it a shot!”
While all students are welcomed and appreciated, some are required to spend 3 days a week on a ‘commitment period’. This period focuses on extensive training and learning on how to mediate.
Mediations are done with all students and their mediators, allowing them to “learn on the job,” said Ms. Gibbens.
To avoid schedule interference, mediators can only volunteer during a free period such as lunch. However, students referred are taken out of their classes.
People who would like to become peer mediators can go through the training. If they become uncomfortable mediating, they can leave the program.
“For the most part, people who come and want to be a part of the program have a strong interest in conflict resolutions,” said Ms.Gibbens.
Many conflicts not only revolve around family, but also revolve around friends and classmates. According to Ms. Gibbens, social media plays a large role in conflicts escalating.
“We encounter different situa� � tions all the time,” said Lopez ‘16. “I can’t say exactly what kind of problems show up because of the confidential policy we have.”
“In the program, we only do one-on-one sessions and never bring in large groups of people,” said Ms. Gibbens.
The mediation sessions don’t always work the same for all students. Some students resolve their issues with the help from the program , while others seek the involvement of parents and deans. Depending on the situation, parents are generally not involved. If parents are aware of their child’s situation or have been in contact with the dean’s office, the Dean’s office might call paremts to let them know about the peer mediation program.
“Being referred to mediation is not the same as being suspended,” said Ms. Gibbens. “It is something the student wants to do.”
During mediation, both the students and mediators have benefited from the conflicts they are trying to resolve. While students may learn from these sessions, mediators may gain experience or knowledge. According to Lopez ‘16, she learned how the way one responds to a situation might affect its various outcomes.
“I would recommend people join Peer Mediation to interact with other people in the school, get yourself involved, and learn more ways to help solve conflicts,” said Lopez ‘16.
By Anna Ng’15 and Murrim Shadid’15