Six Factors Inhibiting the Use of Peer Mediation in a Junior High School

Article excerpt

This article identifies six factors inhibiting the use of a peer mediation program in a culturally diverse junior high school. Recommendations for strengthening school-based peer mediation programs are drawn from the data.

**********

Schools have increasingly been implementing peer mediation programs as a way to help students find peaceful means for resolving conflicts (Casella, 2000). Peer mediation is a process in which students that have been taught a structured, step-by-step model assist others to peacefully negotiate solutions to their interpersonal conflicts. In spite of its popularity (Casella; Gerber, 1999), little is known about the underlying factors that help peer mediation programs succeed and those that hamper or actually impede them. Little formal evaluation has been done on either the impact these programs have had on reducing violence or on the quality of these programs. Much of the success that is reported by trainers is anecdotal (Miller, 1994; Tolan & Guerra, 1994; Webster, 1993; Wilson-Brewer, Cohen, O'Donnell, & Goodman, 1991).

Although peer mediation programs have a considerable amount of face validity, research indicates that bullying and verbal abuse have shown no signs of decreasing over time (Banks, 1997). Instead, students report that the number of fights in schools is increasing ("Gaining power over bullies," 2002). Olweus (1993) found that approximately 15% of students report being bullied regularly while Banks noted that as many as 7% of eighth graders stay home once a month to avoid bullying. Thus, even though lawmakers around the country have moved to find ways to combat bullying ("Gaining power over bullies"), two-thirds of the students in a recent poll reported that fights at their schools are a "very big" or "fairly big" problem (Gallup Organization, 2000"). Because of the growing concern about the prevalence of interpersonal conflicts among students and the popularity of peer mediation as a means of addressing this issue, there is a need for research that can add to our current state of knowledge about such interventions.

This article summarizes the results of a year-long qualitative, descriptive study--using interviews and surveys as the primary methodology--of one peer mediation program in a junior high school. The community-based agency that initially provided the mediation training for the faculty and students requested the study as a way of assessing the effectiveness of their work. A needs assessment was conducted with a representative from this agency and with the two most actively involved faculty members of the mediation program at the school. Drafts of all survey and interview questions were circulated among the members of this group for feedback and were then reviewed with the school's instructional director. In addition, the student interview and survey questions were piloted with a student, and a parent reviewed the parent interview and survey questions. Final drafts of all questions were circulated among several other parents and colleagues for additional feedback.

The focus of all three sets of interviews and survey questions was on trying to understand what factors inhibited or encouraged the students in this school in utilizing the mediation program available to them. The questions were designed to shed light on these factors. The major criterion used in selecting questions was whether they contributed to a systemic understanding of the factors affecting students' use of the mediation program. Perspectives from different parts of the system were elicited by asking similar questions of parents, students, and teachers so that a composite "big" picture emerged reflecting all three perspectives.

The study identified six factors that limited the program's success, along with suggestions for strengthening the mediation program at this school. The findings have implications for other schools that may be interested in, or that already are, implementing peer mediation programs in their settings. …