Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Program Helps Kids Head off Violence

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Program Helps Kids Head off Violence

Article excerpt

Hope is on the way for city schools where violence is not in the curriculum but is on the daily agenda. It's an antidote administered by the students themselves, a program called School Conflict Resolution Experts (SCORE).

It was initiated in Massachusetts, whose attorney general, L. Scott Harshbarger, was in Washington last week to collect a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government to tell the rest of the country about it.

A pilot program of conflict resolution, coordinated by mediation expert Kathy Grant, was in place when Harshbarger came into office, and he greatly expanded it. Today, across Massachusetts mediators are in 26 high schools; 300 students have been trained in skills they never heard of, like listening - and to both sides of a story - talking instead of fighting, and persuading peers that it's cool to walk away from somebody you can't stand. Harshbarger's office claimed 2,500 successes.

Conflict resolution proved its worth in December 1992, when Medford High School boiled over with racial strife. The question was whether the school would have to be closed. Harshbarger called the police chief and the superintendent of schools and volunteered his services. They accepted. Coordinator Grant raced to the site, having garnered mediators from her reserve list. They worked all weekend.

The students were requested to name their leaders. Mediators insisted on diverse groups, with every ethnic group and both sexes represented.

"They were told to sit down with both sides and work out a solution agreeable to both sides," Harshbarger recalled. "Mediators are told not to decide who's right and who's wrong but to find out why the two sides feel the way they do about each other. Trace down the rumor that may have set them at each other's throats in the first place."

Student mediators are chosen with an eye to leadership qualities, not academic accomplishment - "You don't look for National Merit scholars," Harshbarger explains.

Gang leaders are considered excellent material because they have sway over their membership and remove any suspicion that only finks and nerds need apply. …

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