By Emma Jane
JOURNEY Magazine Ptbo Co-Op Student
While almost everyone can expect to experience conflict throughout their teenage years, not everyone has access to resources that help resolve it. Some Peterborough, Ontario, secondary school students, however, are fortunate to be getting that help — and it’s coming from other students right in their own schools.
The John Howard Society of Peterborough has sponsored a peer mediation program at Kenner Collegiate Vocational Institute since February of 2017. The program, called “The Third Side”, offers a free and confidential mediation service for intermediate students at Kenner. Grade 10, 11, & 12 Kenner students are trained as peer mediators according to the Ontario Community Mediation Coalition to provide a safe space for students to resolve conflict and create respect together.
“The intermediate students now have the option to resolve issues with each other constructively instead of teachers stepping in and ending them without follow-up.”
The Third Side provides students with an opportunity for personal growth by being involved in a neutral environment that lends skills and tools to all involved. This program is completely optional which means that students are not pressured or forced into resolution.
Since it is run by older peers, students can trust that the mediation process will be less judgemental or authoritative than school administration, while maintaining their confidentiality. The program is approachable and accessible to intermediate students, who can fill out and drop off a form in one of the several Third Side box locations around the school, including their classrooms.
Peer mediators each receive training that meets the provincial standard for community mediation and is recognized by the Ontario Community Mediation Coalition. Students who complete this training earn a certificate and can practise mediation in any Ontario city that has a community mediation program.
“We had over 21 hours of training in conflict resolution, non-violent communication, and the challenging art of connecting with people about what matters to them and how they’re feeling,” says Maya Raval, a Grade 11 peer mediator for The Third Side. “We worked in groups and/or pairs and practised how to approach conflict in constructive and peaceful ways.”
“So often, when we are angry, we say what we feel and don’t consider what the other person might feel – when really, it’s just that a need of ours is not being met.”
The mediation process begins with a brief meeting between students who are experiencing a conflict with each other and the peer mediators before a case study is developed. The process consists of one-on-one and group meetings with trained students who hear both sides out, and provide tools, skills, and strategies that help the “conflicted” students find their own non-violent solutions together.
After mediation, students fill out a survey indicating their experiences being treated with respect, finding a solution, being heard and listening to the other persons. Peer mediators consistently receive positive feedback from students that indicates a shift in their understanding of the situation. The Third Side has had a positive impact on all involved, especially mediators.
“The intermediate students now have the option to resolve issues with each other constructively instead of teachers stepping in and ending them without follow-up. I think it’s made Kenner into a role-model for the other Peterborough schools to possibly integrate a mediation program into their environments,” Raval says.
She explains how being part of The Third Side has impacted her life. “Being a mediator has taught me to step back and think about how to resolve conflict constructively and with empathy. So often, when we are angry, we say what we feel and don’t consider what the other person might feel – when really, it’s just that a need of ours is not being met. If you think about it this way and realize that all humans have the same needs (e.g. respect, to be heard, etc.), you realize that you have common ground with other people and can find a shared solution together.”
Another mediator, Morgan Carl who is in Grade 12, also feels that his experience at the Third Side has been fulfilling and has positively impacted his life. He feels that working as a mediator has given himself and “students the ability to work with learned skills and strategies, as well as develop non-violent solutions to conflict.”
Marion Little, Manager of Community Services & Training Community Mediation at the John Howard Society of Peterborough, runs the program at Kenner.
“Its been really great. I’ve been really inspired by the students who are involved as mediators and the students who have been willing to work through their conflicts,” she says.
“It’s really exciting to see people developing skills in Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 that many people don’t access until they are well into their careers,” Little continues.
“These skills are often skills people begin to pick up as a second career in their thirties and forties. To me that’s really exciting that people are walking out of high school with skills and more practice than their adult counterparts. The opportunity to respond to conflict immediately is more common in high school and in middle school and because of this there are many mediating opportunities. I think, by next year we will have more people asking,” she says.
The program has just begun at Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School, also in Peterborough, and will be making its way to Norwood High School in the fall with general resolution and non-violent communication training in classrooms.
Little explains that this program has given students skills and strategies that will help them in their personal lives, careers and futures. She says The Third Side has given her hope.
Emma Jane, 18, is a St. Peter Secondary School (Peterborough, Ontario) student working this semester on a co-op placement with JOURNEY Magazine Ptbo. She will be attending Carleton University in Ottawa in September to study Journalism. Her passions include creative writing, reading, and human/animal rights, especially elephants.