For more than 30 years, Dillingham Elementary School’s peer mediation program has taught peacemaking

Nov 9, 2017

Dillingham's peer mediation program has been around long enough that the parents of some of today's mediators were in the programs themselves years ago.

It is easy to spot peer mediators on the playground in their bright yellow vests.
Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

On the playground and in the classroom, arguments and hurt feelings are an inevitable part of elementary school. Over the past three decades Dillingham Elementary School has developed a peer mediator program. It trains fourth and fifth graders to help their fellow students solve those disagreements constructively.

“We want the older kids to be leaders in our school,” said assistant principal, Nick Tweet, who oversees the program. “We want to teach the younger kids that it’s not about getting in trouble. It’s about fixing problems, and they have the ideas to fix problems.”

Right now there are 18 peer mediators. They participate in two and a half days of training, where they learn a multi-step process for helping resolve conflict. Then they take turns monitoring recesses throughout the week in pairs.

At recess, the mediators are highly visible. They wear reflective yellow vests and carry a clipboard.

When a third grader got pushed down in a friendly tussle on the playground, the mediators were the first on the scene. They lead the two third graders to the side of the playground. Fifth-grader Hailey Carty stood between the younger students and laid down the rules.

Fifth-grader Aurora Plant took notes as her fellow mediator, Hailey Carty, helped a couple of third-graders navigate a dispute.
Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

“Steps for mediation are no name calling, no face making, no interrupting, wait your turn and try to solve the problem. Can you guys do that?” Carty asked.

The younger students nodded their assent. Fellow mediator, Aurora Plant took notes about the mediation on a clip board that she later turned into a program coordinator. Carty asked each child what happened, how they were feeling and how they could solve the disagreement. The third-graders apologized to one another

“It’s a win-win, we’re done,” declared Carty. The third graders, all smiles, rejoined the playground games.

The mediators are almost unanimous in their reason for volunteering—assisting younger students is rewarding.

“The best part about being a mediator is solving the problem and helping them, but the hardest part is writing it all down because they talk so fast,” said Plant.

Also a mediator, fifth-grader Gisa Reigh puts it another way.

“It’s just fun helping them. They come mad. They go away happy,” said Reigh.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.