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'It’s not court': How Pattonville elementary students are solving more of their own conflicts

Pattonville School District implemented peer mediation at two elementary schools this year, where students work out conflicts with fellow classmates, rather than adults.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The Pattonville School District implemented peer mediation at two elementary schools this year, where students work out conflicts with fellow classmates, rather than adults.

That fear of waiting outside the principal’s office to be punished after a disagreement between students is being replaced, in part, by a less intimidating environment at two Pattonville elementary schools.

Now, when students are having trouble getting along, they can gather around a table in the guidance counselor’s office with fellow students who have been trained as peer mediators.

Fourth-grader Elliott Bland says he lashed out at a Bridgeway Elementary classmate after thinking something had been taken from his desk. His teacher assigned the two to mediation rather than the principal’s office.

“I learned that this is not court,” Elliot said of his first experience in peer mediation.

Once he learned he wasn’t in trouble, he saw the positive.

“I can’t wait to see his side of the story,” he thought to himself.

Elliot and his classmate heard each other out, and realized the whole thing was a misunderstanding.

The two mediators, fellow fourth-graders, guided the conversations and helped outline a contract saying the two would work to get along better in the future.

“They did good,” Elliot said about his peers. “They were reading off a piece of paper, they kept a good, steady voice. They didn’t laugh, nothing like that.”

The piece of paper and other training the mediators went through is provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, which says building strong social skills can help prevent drug abuse in the future.

The Pattonville School District implemented the peer mediation at Bridgeway and Parkwood schools this year. Students applied and two from each classroom were selected.

NCADA works in many other school districts in the St. Louis area, providing drug prevention counseling or mediation resources.

School guidance counselors oversee the mediation but try not to get involved. Counselor Taylor Adams says the class mediators grew more comfortable in the role after handling their first one.

“Now that the nervous part is kind of over, we’re seeing that confidence build. So it’s good for their self-esteem too,” she said.

It’s also nice to be known as a leader around the school, said fourth-grade class mediator Sophia Fernandez.

“I’ve learned how to think of some strategies to solve their problem but in a fair way,” Sophia added.

And for Emily Erickson-Karanja, a fifth-grade mediator, the skills she’s learned will help her when she grows up too, hopefully to be an actress.

“You’re not always going to like everyone that you work with, like if you’re on a TV show, so you have to be as respectful as you can,” she said.

Counselors say, anecdotally, they’re seeing fewer students sent to the office or be disciplined, in favor of mediation. But they want that to decrease eventually too, said Kendra Worsham, another Bridgeway counselor.

“We hope they’re using their problem-solving skills on their own.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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