In Your Corner: Proactive School Climate part 2: Conflict Resolution

Continuing with the premise that we want a peaceful environment in our schools, we have to consider what it is that keeps it from being so. Conflict is a major peace buster. When I was trained as a mediator, I was told that if there were only two surviving people on earth, at some point there would be a conflict about what to do. Conflict comes from having a difference of opinion about something. Two people can look at the same situation and see it quite differently. In fact, we can’t help but do so, because how we perceive things (interpret the facts we observe) depends upon what our experiences have been with what we are now observing, and we all have different sets of experience.

Lots of folks get all nervous about conflicts, but if we approach conflict from the idea that we will help each side understand the other person’s side, it becomes more of a respectful discussion. Mediators remain neutral and don’t take sides.

When I was the Teen Court manager, Hale ‘Opio sponsored my teaching mediation to two high schools and three middle schools. All but one middle school set up peer mediation programs. I kept records of how many assault, harassment and terroristic threatening cases were referred from all the schools before and after they began using peer mediation. The referrals went down from 30 to 40 percent in the schools with peer mediation programs, and stayed the same in the schools that didn’t have it.

Kapa’a High School has been the flagship for school mediation on Kaua’i for about five years. Keith Kitamura and his awesome team of peer mediators are willing to help other schools get their programs up and running. From the Kapa’a High School Foundation July 2012 newsletter we learn, “Mr. Keith Kitamura, peer mediation advisor, along with Trevor,  Myah and Carli, members of his peer mediation team, approached the Kapa’a High Foundation with a request for a Mac Book computer to create videos and presentations to be used in their outreach programs. The videos they create are intended to become viral, and spread their messages beyond Kapa’a High School to the rest of the state and the world.

“The Peer Mediation Program is a proactive student focused program that trains students how to help other students resolve relationship conflicts without being  judgmental. They help with conflicts concerning bullying, damaging rumors, peer pressure, disagreements and other relationship issues.”

They got their grant! So be expecting to hear from them.

KEO provides the training for those schools that want it. Now is the time to get the program in place, and if it isn’t in place, and we know that it keeps violence down in the schools, ask for it. Be proactive. Find out who in your school decides how a new organization can be formed and what are the requirements. Get a school petition going to prove that there is a student desire for it, write a letter to The Garden Island paper. Get your parents involved. Learning how to have conflict resolution discussions is an adolescent task of development that you need to know your whole life.

In the meantime, you can create a group of school folks who stand for peace. What if each club, each team and each class (freshmen through seniors) selected one or two people that their club members, team or classmates would trust enough to go to if they were feeling conflicted, or because they felt bullied? And these people became “on the spot” conflict resolvers in the halls, the gym, the rest rooms, the cafeteria, etc. — wherever kids spend time in school?

Conflict resolution can be broken down into very easily remembered parts that help students have the respectful discussion needed to resolve their differences. The selected students would help them have this conversation, remembering the parts and keeping things respectful.

1. Tell your story: Briefly state the facts as your remember them.

2. How you feel: Use emotional words — sad, bad, mad, confused, scared, shy.

3. What you need: Respect? Support? Money? To be heard? To be left alone?

4. To get to win-win: What is fair? Both sides may need to give some to get some.

 There are some ground rules that the “Kids in the Halls” would need to know, and that is that only one person gets to speak at a time, and both sides need to speak respectfully. On March 17, 2012 The Garden Island newspaper covered a story about Kitamura and his mediation team when they created a Peace walkway.

“This is totally student-driven and student-created,’” Kitamura said. “Trevor (Calapatin) and Ka‘imi Moniz came up with the idea, and the rest of the students are all working on it. I told them to use the seven core values, and they did the rest. They could do whatever they wanted in terms of design and how it was presented. …

“The seven core values are: loyalty, respect, integrity, acceptance, forgiveness, honesty and trust. The four Pillars of Peace are teamwork, leadership, humility and selfless service. (The peer mediators hold these values in themselves, and hold it for conflicting others when they forget to hold them for each other.)

“Every year, we go to Leilehua High School (on O‘ahu) for a conference, and they have a Peace Garden with a Pillar of Peace.”

See how two students made a difference? Posters could be made of the above four points.

The student body would get familiar with the steps, and might become able to process a lot of their own individual perceptions and feelings. They might even take the steps home, and help their families use it if there were conflicts there. If a case seemed to need more time to resolve, or was rather difficult, it could be referred to the peer mediators or a counselor.

Kapa’a High School peer mediators: We’ll be watching for your mediation videos, and remember that if you want something to put “in the corner” to contact us. Every other school, I’ll be glad to write up your experiences on how you’ve become proactive in important areas in your schools, too.

• Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i convened a support group of adults in our community to ‘step into the corner’ for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Email questions or concerns facing youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at


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