School recess allows kids to expend restless energy; engage in physical activity; and socialize with peers.
But with socialization also comes the possibility of conflict. Kids may be too competitive during games or disagree over playground equipment. When conflicts escalate, school administrators get involved and parents are notified. To avoid these disciplinary outcomes, some JUSD elementary schools are deploying a new resource to solve conflicts before they leave the playground: peer mediators.
“Peer mediators are students who deescalate situations to support peer interaction,” said Dr. Marion Gutterud, principal of Stone Avenue. “They were trained so that if there is a disagreement, [they know] how to talk to their peers and try to come to some resolution.”
Teachers nominate students who are responsible, committed leaders to be peer mediators. The program requires some missed class time to monitor recesses, so participants must also be capable of making up missed work. To keep them from missing too much, schools use a rotation of four peer meditators per day.
Peer mediators make themselves a visible resource by wearing vests as they walk the playground, and they often participate in activities so students are comfortable enough with their presence to ask for help. "Some kids are scared to talk to their principals and supervisors because they think they’re going to get in big trouble,” shared Aiden Bravo, 6th-grade peer mediator at Stone Avenue. “They can talk to us and they don’t have to get nervous.”
Peer mediators assist in solving a wide range of student conflicts. During a Granite Hill recess, a student purposefully kicked a ball away from the group using it. When another student expressed that he wanted to hurt the student responsible, 5th-grade peer mediator Dalilah Ramirez explained that he should use his words to resolve the issue instead. The student agreed.
Peer mediators also contribute to playground safety. During a Stone Avenue recess, Aloradana Teloma saw kids playing tag on the blacktop, which can lead to dangerous collisions and pushing or shoving. The 6th-grade peer mediator, recognizing that the kids wanted to run, suggested they race across the field instead, reducing the chances of a safety incident.
“One of the main things that I've learned is to step back and let them figure it out,” shared Bea Farone, Teacher on Special Assignment for Granite Hill. “They've become really good experts at speaking with each other at their level.”
Peer mediators know their role is important. Aiden Montoya, a peer mediator at Granite Hill, recognizes that kids will never agree on everything, but with the help of peer mediation, they might learn to better understand each other and work through their differences. “We get to help kids with problems they have and it can make the world a better place to live,” said the 5th-grader.
More than halfway into the school year, the results of peer mediation are incredibly positive, with participating schools seeing decreases in disciplinary incidents and increases in positive behaviors. “I'm always in awe of their skills and how seriously they take it,” said Dr. Gutterud. “They have these skills that usually young kids don't have. I’m super proud of them and I’m excited to see it continue.”