Reducing Levels of Elementary School Violence with Peer Mediation

Article excerpt

The effectiveness of an existing peer mediation program in a diverse, suburban elementary school was examined. Peer mediation was available to all students (N = 825). Three-year longitudinal data showed significant reductions in the school's out-of-school suspensions after implementation of the peer mediation program. Mediation training also resulted in significant mediator knowledge gains pertaining to conflict, conflict resolution, and mediation, which was maintained at 3-month follow-up. All mediation sessions (N = 34) were successful in resolving conflict, and mediators as well as participants viewed the peer mediation program as valuable.

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School violence is an issue of grave and ongoing concern in our country. Statistics from 1999 to 2000 reported 32 school-based violent deaths, which included 22 school-age children (DeVoe et al., 2003). Aggressive student interactions often permeate a school's culture and create a hostile learning environment that stifles the academic productivity and success of students (Bandura, 1973; Guetzloe, 1999; Olweus, 1995; Schellenberg, 2000). One solution to reducing aggressive student interactions and their detrimental consequences may lie in peer mediation. Peer mediation in elementary schools has been identified as a resource that promotes positive peer interactions and reduces school violence (Bell, Coleman, Anderson, Whelan, & Wilder, 2000; Debaryshe & Fryxell, 1998; Powell, Muir-McClain, & Halasyamani, 1996).

School mediation programs usually train and equip the student mediators in negotiation skills and conflict resolution techniques (Guanci, 2002). The trained student mediators then assist their peers in finding peaceful resolutions to their disputes and disagreements (Guanci). Several exploratory studies have suggested that elementary school peer mediation programs have taught students how to respond to conflict situations in more socially acceptable ways and have possibly reduced rates of school violence (Bell et al., 2000; Graham & Pulvino, 2000; Hanson, 1994; Humphries, 1999; Johnson & Johnson, 2001; Johnson, Johnson, Dudley, & Acikgoz, 1994; Johnson, Johnson, Dudley, & Magnuson, 1995; Johnson et al., 1996; Powell et al., 1996). The results of these studies are encouraging but they need further validation because the designs used seem to lack a strong methodological rigor and often ignore the importance of measuring longitudinal outcomes.

The shortcomings in methodology include measuring only small subgroups within a school instead of schoolwide reductions in violence, evaluating peer mediation programs under optimal controlled conditions, and frequently implementing peer mediation programs with volunteer participants for the sole purpose of evaluation (Graham & Pulvino, 2000; Johnson & Johnson, 2001; Johnson et al., 1996). These studies do not capture the nature of actual practice and thereby offer questionable support for real-world peer mediation programs. In addition, the majority of the studies reviewed were not longitudinal in design but brief assessments that did not allow enough time for peer mediation programs to become established and demonstrate meaningful results.

Some studies have suggested that a timeframe of 2-5 years is needed before meaningful results can be obtained, estimating that it takes students at least 2 years and teachers at least 5 years to accept peer mediation as a legitimate dispute resolution process (Cameron & Dupuis, 1991; Dowell, 1998). The timeframe of program acceptance also can be influenced by various school-specific factors including time and effort related to publicity, administrative support, reluctance of male participants, and hesitation of teacher participation due to personal ownership of student problems (Cameron & Dupuis). Clearly, existing research on elementary peer mediation programs is missing crucial information needed by school counselors who are ethically and professionally required to implement programs proven to prevent and reduce school violence (American School Counselor Association, 2005; Borders, 2002; Carruthers, Sweeney, Kmitta, & Harris, 1996; Conflict Resolution Education Network Standards Committee [CREnet], 1996; Hiebert, 1997; Houser, 1998; Schellenberg, 2000; U. …