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					Peer Mediation and At-Risk Students


           Linda Faulk

          March 23, 2009

       "Schools reflect the problems of larger society in various ways: fighting, bullying,

vandalizing, absenteeism, acting out, and demonstrating racial antogonism. These

frequent interpersonal and intergroup conflicts often begin as small tensions and escalate

when unresolved." (Lane and McWhirter, 1992 pg 15) Stevahn et all (2002) adds that

learning how to resolve conflicts is the most important compentency that adolescents and

young adults can manage. Schools exist to educate children and student conflicts at

school take an inordinate amount of time, and often leave students with the popular

societal message that in any argument one person wins and one person loses. But this

message will not help students develop collaborative communication skills needed in the

workplace.Students need to resolve disagreements so that everone wins. School that have

been using a peer mediation program to resolve disputes, report that programs increase

student self-esteem and improve communication skills. Using Peer Mediation programs in

the schools can effectively reduce school violence, increase school-community

relationships and increase student achievement.

       Peer mediation is a process where a student will serve as an impartial mediator for

students with conflicts. It is a process of using communication skills to reach solutions that

both parties find agreeable. (Roderick, 1988)Typically students who have been trained in

mediation skills work as a teach to help encourage those students in dispute to reach an

agreement. It is a system of empowering students to make choices and decisions and

develops self control in students. ((Lane and McWhirter, 1992) Typically, in school

programs, students are taught skills in diplomacy, to mutually respect each other, empathy

with other people, recognizing alternative solutions to problems, gaining insight on other

peoples' perspectives and gaining respect for alternative opinions. (Bell et all, 2000)

       In most peer mediation programs, depending on the model in the school, there is an

adult that acts as a coordinator, students receive 15-20 hours of training and activities to

improve their communication and negotiation techniques. Students participate in role play

to improve skills. Students with conflicts are then referred to mediators who work with

them to resolve disputes. The three types of models that are being used in the schools will

be examined as well as schools where these models are being used.

Models of Peer Mediation

       Johnson and Johnson (1994) described peer mediation programs as a total school

program which trains all students on campus with the skills to mediate conflicts. The

benefit of this type of program is that “there is a likelihood” (Johnson & Johnson, 1997,

pg. 25) that since all students have been trained in these skills, school violence will be

lessened, though statistical evidence was not given to substantiate this. The authors point

out that the whole school program has several disadvantages to it including being costly.

Elementary schools are best suited to this type of program because teachers have students

continually during the day. Secondary schools, with changing periods, a larger body of

students and a greater number of teachers, would be more difficult to implement.

       An elective course in peer mediation is another type of program, where students

opt to have a course in mediation and act as mediators for other students. This type of

program limits the peer mediators to only the students who have the class, limiting the

numbers of students exposed to training. The benefit to this type of program is that is does

offer mediation services to students during the school day. (Graham & Cline, 1989)

       A third type of program model is where peer mediation is the club model.

Students meet after school hours to receive training and provide services. The benefits of

this type of program are that it makes available the services to all students and students

who may not be able to participate in the elective course can be recruited. Training can be

given before or after school, or during lunch periods. The disadvantage is that training

would need to be spread over several days, and mediators would be limited in their

opportunity to provide services. (Lupton-Smith & Carruthers, 1996)

Elementary Schools

       Elementary schools are most likely to follow a peer mediation model described

above as the 'whole school' model. In one such elementary school with grades K-5, which

was a magnet school in North Carolina, students in the fourth and fifth grades acted as

mediators for students in grades three through five. The coordinator of the program was a

counselor, and prior to beginning the program, all staff observed the types of conflicts that

students engaged in as preparation. After receiving a grant that would fund both teacher

and student training, the program began with the first year settling all 60 disputes received

and the second year settling 37 out of 40 disputes. (Lupton-Smith & Carruthers, 1996)

       Aside from the obvious benefits that the conflicts were resolved and those involved

were satisfied, other benefits were recorded. Students were reported to have increased in

confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy due to the ability to resolve their own issues.

And monitoring the students for conflict helped identify those students with other behavior

problems that may otherwise been overlooked. School administrators report that they

"believe school climate improved as a result" (Lupton-Smith & Carruthers, 1996 pg 9) of

the mediation program. The disadvantage is the time required to participate in the ongoing

training needed to keep the program going. While the amount of time required to maintain

the program is much less than the first year it began, it still requires ongoing instruction

for the staff and students from the court mediation consultants. (Lupton-Smith &

Carruthers, 1996)

       A research study conducted at an elementary school introducing a peer mediation

program specifically designed to foster school safety, reseachers found that over the five

year period of the program (begun in 2002) the program not only reduced school

suspensions, but also demonstrated a marked reduction in violent behavior. (Cantrell,

Parks-Savage & Rehfuss, 2007) This was one of the few studies which were conducted on

a continuing program with this length of time.

       Johnson and Johnson (2001) conducted a study in an inner city midwestern

elementary school in order to study the types of conflicts that elementary students cannot

resolve themselves, to determine how mediation skills work with young children and to

understand if there are gender differences in types of conflict. The model being used in the

school was the whole school model and over the course of a year nearly five hundred

conflicts were recorded at the school. The majority of the conflicts were at the third and

fourth grade level with 46% among girls solely. A large number of cases referred to

mediation (91%) involved physical fights or verbal abuse and students were referred to

mediation. All of the cases referred to mediated were successful. The researcher notes that

the school has frequent occurences of violence and "2% of the students accounted for one

fourth of the mediated conflicts." (Johnson & Johnson, 2001 pg. 177) The researcher did

conclude that boys were more likely to be physically violent, and the episodes increase as

students age. Bell et all (2000) noted that some of the changes noticed in peer mediation

program can be attributed to the natural process of maturation, as student mature their

behavior changes.

       Cremin (2002) the effectiveness of peer mediation programs in three Alabama

elementary schools who had received training from an outside consulting services. The

program included the use of tokens and rewards for displaying positive behavior which

could have had an impact on increasing positive behavior aside from any peer mediation

training.. In one school, the staff and student all participated, received training and noticed

a reduction in bullying behavior. In the other two schools, even though the students had

been trained, no official program was initiated. Teachers did not fully support the

program and there was no reduction in agressive behavior, instead some of the incidents of

bullying reported were ignored or excuses according to the researcher. Cremin (2002)

cites the difference in the school outcome was a result of teacher and school support in

fully implementing the program.

       Bell et all (2000) studied a rural school in Western Tennessee serving grades first

through eight. Participants were from an area with an average annual income of just over

ten thousand dollars, and students in grades six through eight were chosen to serve as

mediators. Teachers noted that classroom disruptions diminished, agressive behavior

lessend as the program continued during the first year and suspensions decreased twenty

percent (74% down to 54%) (Bell et all, 2000 pg. 512).

       The research from Bell et al (2000) was an important contribution to this paper

because of the rural area and the low socio-economic status of the participants. The large

discipline issues reported prior to the program and the subsequent reduction showed the

effectiveness of the program in a very diverse school but there was a lack of data about the

participants because of confidentiality issues. It is not known if the discipline issues were

with the same students, the reductions was in total or included only the students involved

in the peer mediation program, their background or other factors that may have influenced

the outcome of the study.

Middle School Programs

       In middle and high schools, the whole school model is less likely to be used due

both in part to the greater numbers of students and staff and to the multiple periods of

class each day. Using an elective course model in a North Carolina middle school, a

school officer organized an advisory committee than included community members,

parents and staff to introduce the peer mediation program through assemblies to the

student body of nearly one thousand students. (Lupton-Smith & Carruthers, 1996) This

program used a three teacher committee to select the students who would serve as

mediators for their interpersonal characteristics of communication skills and desire to help

others. The student mediators were then given training and mediations were conducted

during school hours in a special room set aside for mediations. The students operated as

co-mediators in most cases and in the first two years of the program ninety-eight percent

of the conflicts (87 the first year, 88 the second year) were resolved by agreements.

       The students were paired by grade and extend the mediation process by a

debriefing session post-mediation process with an adult in order to improve

communications skills. The participants report that the program works because of strong

school support and the time invested by the coordinator in advancing the skills of the

mediators. (Lupton-Smith & Carruthers, 1996)

       In a middle school in New England with student body of one thousand students,

(representing twenty one different nationalities) a study was conducted to evaluate the

effectiveness of their peer mediation program. In surveys of students it was revealed that

peer pressure was a factor in preventing the use of mediation services. Students reported

they were distrustful of the process and preferred to resolve problems themselves. There

was a disconnect between student and teacher perceptions. Teachers were more likely to

report positive effects, or to equate positive outcomes to peer mediation. (Theberg &

Karen, 2004) The researchers proposed that developmental stages of middle schoolers

created some of the insecurities that were reported and that power imbalances affected

results. Adolescents involved in relationships were less likely to want to discuss personal

issues. The researchers also noted that the program did not have the full support of the

school or the staff, and that mediation skills were not modeled by other adults on the

campus. Theberg & Karen (2004) noted that adolescents gain status in certain groups by

acting out agressively, and peer mediation does not positively affect those students and

may in fact exacerbate the behaviour.

       Smith et all (2002) studied three Florida middle schools for four years during the

implementation of a peer mediation program, looking at the attitudes of the teachers and

students both before and after the training was received. Students receiving school

discipline declined each year of the program during the time immediately following the

fall implementation of the program. Girls tended to use the program more frequently

(twice as much) and verbal abuse was the most common dispute. Data also revealed that

the younger students (6th grade) were more likely to use mediation to resolve

disagreements. This supports the data of Theberg & Karen (2004) that older students may

not use outsiders to resolve their conflicts.

High School Programs

       In the high school of 1,700 students, the peer mediation program uses the elective

class model with a social science teacher as a coordinator. In the initial year of the

program, twenty teachers and students were trained in mediation skills, with most of the

student mediators chosen from the freshman class. The authors noted that freshmen

commonly have the most disputes, and students who are interested in being mediators

need to apply for a position before a teacher panel. In the first two years, the program

averaged a successful completion rate of 95%. It needs to be noted that the coordinator

had a unique position to organize this program due to his outside interests in participating

as a court mediator. The school considered the program a success. (Lupton-Smith &

Carruthers, 1996) The older the students involved in conflict, the longer the mediation

takes to resolve. Research finds that older students may have more complex problems

than those presented in a mediation session.

       In a study of a high school after one year of a peer mediation program, students

who had used the mediation services reported satisfaction. However, only a small

percentage of the students were actually using the program and though teachers believe

the program was an important addition to the school, they indicated that they would not be

likely to refer students to the program. (Terry, 1997)

       Armed with evidence that peer mediation was beneficial to mediators and school

climate, researcher Harris (2005) wanted to study the effects on those in dispute who

chose to participate in mediaton. Fifty one disputants reported liking the process of

mediation because they were able to clarify misunderstandings, have an opportunity to

express their viewpoint and the mediation was conducted in an atmosphere of safety.

Student-disputants were able to recall some of the steps of mediation and reported that

telling their story was most important to them. Though they had not been trained in

mediation communication skills, disputants reported modeling some of the skills

afterwards including speaking calmly, listening carefully and clarify their position.

Student Effectiveness
       While all schools reported positive results, several researchers noted that the self-

reports were without documented evidence and longitudal evidence had not been

examined to see the long term results of programs. (Cantrell, Parks-Savage & Rehfuss,

2007) In a suburban elementary school the peer mediation program reduced school

suspensions about 75%. (Cantrell, Parks-Savage & Rehfuss, 2007)

       Humphries (1999) studied an elementary school where students participated in a

peer mediation program and discussed their feelings about the program. Data was gathered

by interviews and observation. The researcher noted that when student mediation fails, it

sometimes needs to be investigated why the failure happened. Students reported that they

were concerned with a loss of popularity, losing a friend and how difficult it was to be

neutral when mediating a dispute where a friend was involved. Students also reported the

positive aspects of the program, being able to help others and assisting their school. And

while there were some negative feelings about disputes, the program was successful in

resolving disputes.

       In a study conducted in one of the larger districts in California, researchers sought

to answer the basic questions regarding the peer mediation program which had been

implemented into part of the curriculum of a World Civilization class. Researchers wanted

evidence that students actually learned the techniques of peer mediation, applied those

techniques to conflict, viewed their ability to handle conflict in a postive manner and

whether peer mediation training had any impact on academics. They also wanted to

investigate whether students used a "distributed" negotiation or "integrative" negotiation.

(Stevahn et all, 2002. pg 307) Distributed negotiation is whether one party succeeds at the

expense of the other party, or an emphasis of personal interests.

       Integrative negotiation is a mutually beneficial negotiation and the researchers

noted that in conflicts within personal relationships, integrative negotiation maintains

relationships. (Stevahn et all, 2002) Before training students were not able to use

integrative negotiation or voluntarily intervene in school conflicts. After receiving

training, 74% of students used integrative negotiation and roughly half used peer

mediation techniques to voluntarily resolve school conflicts as they arose. In personal

relationship conflicts 47% of students were able to resolve disputes and save friendships.

(Stevahn et all, 2002. pg 323).

       Smith et all (2002) found that during implementation of the program, no changes

in school climate occurred and teacher attitudes did not change. The researchers argued

that over a length of time, school climate would positively be affected and the short

duration of the study did not offer enough time to substantiate this claim. Their study also

offered that peer mediation programs can offer two distinct types of programs targeted at

two different outcomes. Since programs have demonstrated that student discipline issues

are reduced, then implementation could reduce teacher disruptions, office staff

inconveniences and instructional time lost and raise student accountability for displaying

sociall acceptable behavior. If those issues are not a problem, then peer mediation

programs can be used to remedy student personal deficiencies. The skills learned in peer

mediation promote leadership, communication and higher self esteem which students who

are outside the mainstream student population would need. Students currently in

alternative educational situations would benefit from this type of program (Smith et all


Antidote to School Violence

         Violence at school is an ongoing issue of great concern to everyone. Aggressive

school behavior creates a hostile environment which is counterproductive to student

learning. For the purposes of this paper, school violence is loosely defined as any

disruptive student behavior which would result in school discipline. This could run the

gamut from vandalism, bullying verbal abuse or actual physically fighting. Shepherd

(1994) reported that peer mediation has become one of the growing responses to violence

in schools. School interventions to agressive behavior such as suspension, exclusions and

expulsion do not resolve the problem, but teaching students alternative means to resolve

disputes and communicate their feelings have decreased school disruptions.

         When the whole school model was used in an elementary school, research

suggested that school violence was lessened because students had learned interpersonal

communication skills that fosters resolving conflicts instead of acting on them (Johnson,

1996)Both school discipline problems and behavior exhibited by students participating in

the peer mediation program improved. (McCormick, 1988) Student violence was reduced

by 47%. Counselors consider that peer mediation programs not only reduce school

violence but also acts as a preventative program as well. (Lane and McWhirter, 1992)

Redirecting At Risk Students

       In addition to the benefits to the schools and the reduction in school discipline

issues, students have had the ability to develop positively. Other benefits of peer

mediation are that students have the opportunity to talk over problems with others, interact

with different people in a social setting, learn about different cultures, and communicate in

a non judgemental atmosphere. (Lane & McWhirter, 1992) Students develop the skills to

act in a socially acceptable manner and learn to listen to each other. (Kopp, 1982)

       Students have the ability to develop socially responsible attitudes by volunteering

their services to other students. (Araki, , 1990) Schools also report students have better

attendance, develop stronger leadership skills and strengthen their problem solving skills.

(Benson & Benson, 1993) Gerber & Terry-Day (1999) suggests that the positive reports

about peer mediation are anecdotal and not supported by evidence that is directly related

to the program. One of the studies examined a five year program which showed students

increased in their mastery of language skills and a decline in out of school suspensions

over the length of the program. (Cantrell, Parks-Savage & Rehfuss, 2007)

       In a study by Wright(2007) peer mediation skills were part of a comprehensive

intervention program which included classroom modifications, cooperative learning

techniques as well as peer mediation and peer tutoring. The study sought to determine the

effects of these interventions on at-risk students. Since the study included all the

interventions and those results which can be attributed to peer medation skills cannot be

identified separately, the study was included for its discussion of adolescent behavior and

at-risk students. One of the conclusions was that attachment and a sense of belonging was

important for students to have a positive school experience, and peer mediators fostered

that sense of belonging for most students, including those described as low-risk. Even for

high at-risk students, the opportunity to develop positive social situations was a benefit.

Though the study did have some positive effects, it was noted that in the short term results

may be misleading.

       Johnson et all (1998) noted that students develop their attitudes about conflict

before ninth grade, and those attitudes can be changed by using peer mediation. Students

without intervention, without alternatives to resolving conflict will use force. Stevahn

(2004) reported that students who had been taught peer mediation skills were able to

change their attitudes about conflict. Before training, students had negative attitudes about

conflict and words that were associated with conflict as measured by a word association

test. After training, student still viewed conflict as negative, but viewed words associated

with conflict with more positive attitudes. The researcher did note that the measure could

contain some bias with word association, but positive results were supported by


       Cremin (2002) noted that a peer mediation program at an Alabama elementary

school was successful in reducing agressive behavior, especially with students with

emotional and behavioral problems. And Harris (2005) reported that students who were

not trained in mediator skills still learned the skills during a dispute by modeling positive


Peer Mediation Increases Student Achievement

       In the current era of educational reform, additional emphasis is placed on teachers,

schools and districts to raise student achievement as measured on standardized test scores.

The No Child Left Behind educational act of 2001 not only requires schools to show

improvement in areas of student test scores, but punishes those schools who do not show

results in the area of English and Mathematics. Researchers Lane and McWhirter (1992)

cited government reports that note that students need to develop their oral and verbal

language skills in order to achieve academically. Researchers Cantrell et all noted that

students who participate in peer mediation programs develop oral and verbal language

abilities which in turn helps increase student achievement in other areas. (Cantrell, Parks-

Savage & Rehfuss, 2007)

        While studies had indicated that peer mediation increased language skills and

increased achievement, those studies were conducted in English classes. When

researchers studied a World History class that integrated peer mediation training with

some of the students, the trained students significantly outscored the untrained students on

a History test. Even seven months later, the students still outperformed those students in

the control group who had not received the peer mediation training. (Stevahn et all, 2002)

Effects of Peer Mediation Extend Into the Community

       Many of the programs use advisory boards that include community members and

parents as part of the medation program. (Lane and McWhirter, 1992) Frey, Holley and

L'Abate (1979) concluded in their research that when students have the opportunity to

share their feelings and fears, there is a new intimacy in the family as well. Maxwell

(1989) reports that when students learn to control their anger at home, parents report less

discipline problems at home as well. Cremin (2002) observed that when students were

trained in peer mediation and the program was not supported at school, students still used

the techniques at home to resolve disputes, so training was beneficial personally to


       While peer mediation programs have been used in schools for over twenty years,

most of the studies were those that had been performed for short periods of time and more

recently. Benson and Benson (1993) cited that much of the literature on peer mediation

programs in the school are based on speculation and author judgement. They also

speculated that some of the positive comments were based on consultant or trainer

observations, not verified data. Other researchers (Gerber & Terry-Day, 1999) note that

the validity of programs cannot be substantiated because most of the data is self-reported

and anecdotal, and other reseachers (Lupton-Smith & Carruthers, 1996) note that the lack

of longevity of programs cannot predict the long term success of programs.

       Cantrell, Parks-Savage & Rehfuss (2007) reported on a five year program, and

other programs discussed in this paper were of several years and reported positive

findings. Johnson and Johnson (1996) note that research in this area is valid but because

measures uses is not standardized and methodology is not detailed in steps, replicating

results is difficult and so results cannot be verified. As more research is conducted,

variables need to be controlled so that outcomes can be documented.

       One of the advantages of education in this country is that it is controlled by the

local community in which it serves, and one of the disadvantages to this system is the lack

of a comprehensive national curriculum. This creates the opportunity for individual

schools to create or iniatiate program that work to resolve some of the pressing

educational issues that are not considered in other schools. Schools that score highly on

international comparison tests of student achievement have such national curriculums.

(Hiebert et all, 2005)

       The future of all educational programs are uncertain with the cuts to educational

funding and the adoption of strict, regimented instructional strategies that have been a

result of No Child Left Behind. With the additional performance assessments, teachers

have little opportunity to implement programs that enhance student experiences.


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