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Kat-Lewisboro Students Learn To Mediate Conflicts At School

Social worker Wendy Bucaj explains the peer mediation program to the Katonah-Lewisboro School Board.
Social worker Wendy Bucaj explains the peer mediation program to the Katonah-Lewisboro School Board. Photo Credit: Bob Dumas

LEWISBORO, N.Y. – Playground disputes, hurtful rumors, friendship issues, name-calling – it’s all part of elementary school life.

Increase Miller Elementary School, and now Lewisboro Elementary School, have a unique way of resolving such issues while at same time teaching students leadership skills they can use later in life.

The program is known as peer mediation – a negotiation-based approach that teaches student mediators alternative strategies to help resolve conflicts among their peers. In the program, the students are trained as conflict mangers and then apply problem-solving strategies to assist their classmates.

“All the mediators go through 10 to 15 training sessions before they are certified,” said social worker Wendy Bucaj, who started the pilot program at Increase Miller Elementary School 12 years ago and is now rolling it out at Lewisboro Elementary School. “All the lessons are hands-on and done in small groups and include things such role playing in conflict scenarios.”

When a student feels the need to have a problem resolved, he or she can place a request in the peer mediation request box. Bucaj then chooses the mediators she thinks have the right set of skills for that particular problem.

“The mediators layout the ground rules for the process,” she said. “Then they sign an agreed upon plan to resolve the issue.”

Bucaj said the program began with eight fifth-graders and by the third year she was training both fourth- and fifth-graders. Now, Increase Miller has 36 fifth-grade peer mediators and Lewisboro Elementary has 49. It may seem like a lot, but Bucaj says every mediator has an opportunity to work a case.

“They commit once a week to meet during their lunch period,” she said. “They are proud of the fact that they give up their lunch period.”

Bucaj explained the mediators themselves do not solve the problems, but are there to guide the parties in the process of clear communication so they can come up with their own solutions.

“It encourages cooperation and communication among the students,” she said. “They realize it’s a safe place to go. It also creates a positive school culture that models positive behavioral interaction.”

The most mediations that Bucaj has overseen in one week is nine. “That was a busy week,” she said.

The mediators won’t deal with physically aggressive situations – those are sent elsewhere. It’s mostly issues such as name-calling, leaving others out and cheating during games.

“We don’t have any major issues – thank goodness,” Bucaj said.

The entire idea behind the program is to give the students who act as mediators leadership skills that will come in handy as they move into high school and, later on, adulthood.

“I have had high school students come back and tell me how glad they were to have been part of the program,” Bucaj said.

Members of the Board of Education had praise for Bucaj and the program.

“I saw it in action a lot at Increase Miller,” said Board Trustee Jancet Harckham. “It is pretty amazing.”

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