LACBA Civic Mediation Project Peer Mediation Refresher Training Recap

“Just as reading and writing are essential skills for leading a productive life, so too are conflict resolution skills. Young people need to be able to communicate effectively, appreciate the consequences of their actions, generate and evaluate alternative solutions to problems, and co-exist with people with whom they disagree. Peer mediation teaches these fundamental skills and attitudes to both mediators and parties.” (Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools, Richard Cohen)

The LACBA Civic Mediation Project (CMP) held its annual Peer Mediation Refresher training on Friday, October 7, 2016 at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine School of Law. Students were joined by Project Director, Andrew Culberson; Programs Manager, Julie Ware; Santa Monica Peer Mediation Program Coordinator, Shaune Gatlin; Pacoima Peer Mediation Program Coordinator, Amber Ali; Counsel for Justice Board Members Mark Garscia and Mike Spindler; and a group of volunteer adult mediators.

“I was pleased to attend the Youth Peer Mediation training for our Civic Mediation Project at Pepperdine,” Garscia said. “The role play sessions with the middle school students were outstanding. Speaking with board member Mike Spindler afterwards, we agreed that the best part was watching the students in action. They mediated disputes dealing with romances gone awry and the ensuing gossip, and whether physical play during gym class crossed over the line to bullying.”

The Youth Peer Mediation and Conflict Resolution Program currently serves John Adams and Lincoln Middle Schools from the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, and Maclay Middle School Academy of Social Justice from the Los Angeles Unified School District in Pacoima. The three schools mirror the diverse population of Los Angeles County. Program Coordinators ensure that the Peer Mediators selected represent the diverse ethnic, socio-economic, and scholastic populations of their schools. 

Disputants may be referred to mediation through a number of channels: self-referral; referral from a school counselor, administrator or teacher; peer referral or confidential referral through a centrally-located drop box. Mediations are voluntary and confidential; when the parties agree, peer mediators guide the disputants through the mediation process. If there are special circumstances, the Program Coordinators or another trained adult volunteer will guide the mediation. Additionally, if one of the parties does not wish to mediate, the students have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the Program Coordinator to discuss their situation and brainstorm tools to create a more positive outcome.

Conflicts that come to mediation originate from a variety of sources: relationship issues, physical fights, name-calling, bullying, rumors, and increasingly disputes stemming from interactions, photos and/or videos on social media.

The most essential benefit of Peer Mediation programs in schools is the reduction in conflict among students and related suspensions. Mediated disputes convened through CMP’s programs have a 96.5 percent resolution rate (mediations convened from January 2015—June 2016). Anecdotal evidence indicates that mediated resolutions also prove to be more lasting and durable as compared to disputes resolved through other means. Students, both mediators and disputants, experience an increase in self-esteem, empowerment, insight and empathy for self and others.

The agenda for the Peer Mediation Refresher training was as follows: upon arrival at Pepperdine the students met in a large classroom for a 60 minute presentation and discussion reviewing the steps in mediation, skills to be used (such as active listening, open-ended questions, etc.).

For the next part of the day, the students were divided into three groups. The groups rotated through three classrooms where they observed and/or participated as a mediator in three different conflict scenarios. All skills require practice to master and the role plays enabled the students to develop their own conflict resolution skills. Before rotating to the next classroom, each small group debriefed the “mediation” to talk about what was particularly effective and what could have been handled differently. Getting feedback from their peers as well as the adult volunteers helps the mediators to improve their abilities and increase their confidence as a mediator.

During lunch, the students had the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery from the outside patio. Conversation and laughter brought the outdoor area to life—especially when mediation and negotiation skills were used to trade cookies and chips for preferred flavor or brand.

Following lunch, there was a short debrief of the role plays, a quiz to test the mediators’ knowledge and an evaluation to rate their experience. The post-test provides data for CMP staff to report back to funding sources, establish baselines for monitoring skill evolution throughout the school year, and gauge the overall effectiveness of the training itself.

At the close of the day, group photos were taken with the view of the Pacific Ocean providing the backdrop. Students boarded their school buses confident and eager to take on their role as Peer Mediator for their schools.