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School Mediator's Field Guide:
Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the May issue of The School Mediator.
This month's issue features the important work of Muigai
Kimani and his colleagues at the Centre for Conflict Resolution
in Schools in Nairobi, Kenya.
This will be the last issue of Volume III, our third year
of publication. I hope to devote all the "free" time I can
find in June (as well as in July and August) to other writing
projects. Then you'll hear from me again in the Fall.
Thanks for listening, and as always, please send along your
thoughts and experiences.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Kenyan Schools Will No Longer Be Killing Grounds
The most enjoyable part of publishing "The School Mediator"
is hearing from you, educators from all over the world who
are applying peer mediation where you live.
It astonishes me that this concept is now working within
stable democracies as well as in countries emerging from
dictatorship or civil war; in the most densely populated
cities as well as in rural villages; within an environment
of relative wealth as well as one of extreme poverty.
After hearing from you, I often come away with new insights
into this work, an uplifting sense of being part of a global
movement, an appreciation of the many blessings in my own
life, and a deep admiration for those of you who overcome
tremendous obstacles to help young people.
This month I bring your attention to work that I find particularly
inspiring: that of Muigai Kimani and his colleagues
at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Schools (CCROSS),
based in Nairobi, Kenya.
The first time I heard from Muigai, he implied that the
infamous tragedy at Columbine High School--the apparent
nadir of student behavior in schools (whose 5 year anniversary passed last month )--is not quite as low as we think.
He subsequently provided examples of school-based violence
from Kenyan schools to support his point:
Kyanguli Secondary School
A group of students at this school displayed their dissatisfaction
with administrators and prefects (older student leaders)
by setting school dormitories on fire. Sixty-seven students
died, buried in a mass grave inside the school compound.
Senior administrators and teachers hesitated to rescue students
for fear that the young perpetrators would throw them into
Nyahururu High School/Ndururumo High School
Signs of profound tension between these rival schools had
been ignored or suppressed prior to 2001, when over 600
boys from Nyahururu (a boys school) invaded the girls dormitory
at Ndururumo (a co-ed school) with the intent of raping
the girls. After the girls' screams alerted their male classmates,
a battle ensued in which students employed broken chairs,
whips, stones and all manner of crude weapons. Many girls
were raped, students seriously injured, and school property
Kikuyu Secondary School
Strikes and riots in this under-achieving school for boys
regularly spill into the community and result in the stoning
of vehicles on a nearby highway. Students also accost and
harass villagers, who in turn retaliate with their own violence.
If you are as sickened by these stories as I am, you can
understand why Muigai and his colleagues were compelled
to found CCROSS in 2003. Currently staffed entirely by volunteers,
CCROSS is a non-profit working with students, teachers and
administrators to develop and promote effective conflict
resolution strategies in Kenyan Schools.
Muigai stresses one key distinction between student conflict
in Kenya as compared to the West. Whereas in the latter,
most student conflicts arise out of "relatively" petty interpersonal
differences, in Kenya, student conflict is a form of
dissent, a way of expressing opposition to the laws
and norms of both school and the larger culture.
Sadly, there is no shortage of issues about which Kenyan
students would be upset. A short list includes:
·A government which until very recently did not tolerate
dissent of any kind.
·An education system inherited from British colonizers
whose sole focus is on producing competent workers (and
whose entirely punitive approach to discipline includes
corporal punishment as well as degrading manual work like
uprooting tree stumps, digging pit latrines or kneeling
down for long hours). More than 60% of students do not
make it past primary school.
·Tribal and ethnic tensions among Kenya's citizens
which are often fanned for political purposes (42 different
tribes are represented among Kenya's @ 30 million citizens).
·Parents who are so consumed by poverty (2/3 of Kenyan
households live on less than $1 per day) that they pay little
attention to their children.
·A pervading sense among young people that there
is no future for them. (Muigai wrote that students feel
the system has "consigned their destiny to the dogs.")
Despite the challenges, CCROSS has found ways to
have a positive impact within each of the schools described
above, applying strategies that include:
*Conducting baseline surveys to determine the root
cause of the conflicts at schools
*Facilitating individual and group post-traumatic
*Initiating open assemblies (attended by teachers,
administrators, and students) for airing grievances in an
environment of openness, tolerance and respect
*Training teachers as conflict managers and peer
*Training students as peer mediators to intervene
in day-to-day conflicts among students
*Establishing "peace teams" comprised of students,
educators and villagers to serve as a link between community
and school and spread a message of non-violent conflict
*Helping parents develop alternative disciplinary
measures so that they can be proactive in resolving home
and village-based disputes before they escalate at school
*Integrating anti-violence educational campaigns
into nation-wide drama and music competitions that reach
500,000 students and educators
The obstacles CCROSS faces are great, and their resources
are extremely limited. Even getting to schools, some of
which are located in remote areas 240 miles (400 kilometers)
away from Nairobi, can be a hardship.
There are many ways that you can support CCROSS's efforts,
*Your school could adopt a Kenyan school, sharing
advice, support, and material resources
*Volunteer to visit Kenya and work with CCROSS for
*Donate money to help CCROSS buy computers, a reliable
vehicle, and other essentials
Muigai has requested that monetary donations be sent to
School Mediation Associates (make checks out to School Mediation
Associates and write CCROSS in the memo section of check)
at 134w Standish Road, Watertown, MA 02472, USA. We will
compile the funds and wire them to CCROSS.
Muigai Kimani can be reached directly at email@example.com.
Share your thoughts and comments...
this link to view photos of Muigai, other CCROSS trainers,
and Kenyan students and teachers.
Richard Cohen On The Road Again
8 years of years of turning down out-of-state work because
I wanted to stay close to home while my kids were young, I am excited to once again accept conference keynotes
and training work that require travel.
Last month I visited Pensacola, Florida to present a keynote
address to a conference of middle and high school peer mediators.
The conference was organized by the talented Kerry Sise
under the auspices of the Escambia County Community Drug
and Alcohol Council. It was great fun.
Follow the links below to view the local print media coverage
of the event (three or four mis-quotes, but what can you
Pensacola News Journal
The Independent Florida Sun
Response to "'Transforming' Peer Mediation"
We received quite a few responses to last month's issue of The School Mediator concerning the application
of Transformative mediation to school-based peer mediation.
I have posted a number of them below:
I was very excited to hear about the idea of integrating
the transformative style into the high school mediation
process. I, too, have been concerned about young mediators'
adherence to stages over really listening to what parties
say, and I support the blending of the two.
In my experience, I think students initially need the outline
of the steps/stages to get the overall picture of where
they are and where they're going; however, high school mediators
are definitely astute enough to see the value of following
I believe it's a matter of first developing experience and
confidence in their new roles as mediators, and then offering
information about the transformative style as they become
comfortable in their roles.
Teaching the transformative style is also a way of empowering
young mediators to trust their intuition.
I so enjoy The School Mediator, and often want to
download the articles to share with friends off line.
CREST (Conflict Resolution Essentials for School Transformation)
Dispute Resolution Program Services
Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations
San Jose, California USA
This past newsletter was very timely for me as I have just
received a request from a superintendent at a nearby reservation
who would like us to come in and train students this summer.
Our center has been transforming/transformative since the
mid- nineties, and we have developed a good relationship
with Bush and Folger.
One thing that concerns me are the developmental as well
as systemic needs for structure when we are dealing with
kids and schools.
My experience is that kids "get it" (transformative theory),
sometimes quicker than adults. But questions remain: How
can we best train the trainers? What structural needs will
assist schools in becoming better listeners and trusting
enough to be responsive to the parties?
I'm hoping to learn more about what is being done and will
check out the web site and books available. Thank you for
the thoughts and resources.
Conflict Resolution Center
University of North Dakota
North Dakota USA
I have been to some recent conferences and have been saddened
by the zealous and exclusive way Transformative mediation
is promoted. I did not see that in your piece, but I hope
that as you explore its use, you will continue your open
and exploring inquiry into ever more ways to improve what
you are teaching.
I think there are some important and valid points brought
up by this new wave. But its advocates sometimes present
the Transformative approach in such an exclusive and demeaning
(of any other methods) way, that they contradict the lessons
that are supposedly at the core of the approach.
I have always mediated and trained in an intuitive way,
but I know that having a structure or framework to branch
away from was important for me.
As was once explained to me: "To fly the plane, you must
first go down the narrow runway."
I think transformative mediation is on the "right track."
As someone who trained for years in the counseling field
and then later in mediation, I have long compared these
processes. I do see peer mediation becoming robotic and
rigid, with student mediators more focused on the steps
then on listening well and reflecting. The steps should
be the foundation of training, and the higher impact skills
like listening, reflecting feelings, clarifying, etc. can
be emphasized to make for a highly effective peer mediator.
The field can only gain from moving in this direction.
Escambia County Community Drug and Alcohol Council
Pensacola, Florida USA
almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been
devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in
schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer,
more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people
around the world.
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