YCW Best Practice: Conflict Resolution

School: Gilbert Stuart Middle School, Providence, RI

Advisor: Leo Rios

1. Background:

Providence middle schools have been subject to many difficult pressures over the past years.  Constant changes in staff, large influx of new immigrants, especially from Spanish-speaking countries as well as from different Asian and Eastern Europeans have created a great deal of tension and friction in the middle schools.  Gang activity has thrived, and bullying and fighting have become daily occurrences.  To address this, the Providence Schools Department began a partnership with the Providence After School Alliance (PASA).  PASA aimed to provide students with opportunities to take part in programs that they normally would not be able to afford or to take the time during the middle of the school day to attend.  Last year, Mr. Leo Rios, a former YCW advisor at Esek Hopkins Middle School and certified YCW trainer, trained the students at Esek Hopkins MS.  The students had decided to focus their program on lessening the violence, bullying and gang tensions that had become so pervasive at their school through conflict resolution.  The YCW Conflict Resolution program teaches students the basic skills needed to use their words to solve problems and turn to mediation to solve their disputes rather than guns, knives or fists.  Together they implemented a Conflict Resolution and Mediation program curriculum that has now been adopted by PASA for implementation at all of its middle school partners.

2. Process:

After receiving YCW Leadership and Implementation training, the students at Gilbert Stuart Middle School (where Mr. Rios now works for the West End Community Center) received basic conflict resolution training to acquire and practice the skills required to become good conflict managers, including active listening; how to ask inquisitive, clarifying questions; and the use of brainstorming to generate multiple solutions to a problem.  Once they had been introduced to the basic skills needed to resolve conflicts, they received basic mediation training using a six-step mediation process.  The mediation training called upon components and lessons from the “We Can Work It Out” curriculum of Street Law, Inc. with lessons culled from other sources, including the late William J. Kreidler’s “Conflict Resolution in the Middle School,” and lessons and program designs based on the San Francisco-based Community Board’s model peer mediation program.  The basic premise of this design is to utilize role-playing to practice all the roles of players in the typical mediation process.  Finally, students received additional training in tenets of Kingian Nonviolence, led by members of the Street Workers program of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence.  Many of the Street Workers grew up in similar neighborhoods as the students themselves, were former gang members, or had served time in prison for involvement in other criminal activities.

Pilot Project

The first pilot group of 14 students was trained at Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence.  The assistant principal of the school selected the children, who were known to come from families identified as gang-influenced or involved.  Some of the children were suspected of already being gang members and all were seen as negative peer leaders.  The students were advised by the school’s student assistance counselor and by a member of the Street Workers program, along with the school’s Student Resource Officer.  After participating in two all-day conflict resolution trainings to learn the basic skills, the members received training in how to establish a peer mediation program.

The students spent time on their own developing several scenarios depicting typical conflicts and disputes that were likely to occur in the school.  These included boy friend/girl friend arguments, girls fighting over a boy, bullying and intimidation scenarios, scenarios addressing racial tensions and bias, and gang against gang scenarios, among others.  They used these scenarios to practice their mediation skills for several weeks, meeting two or three times a week in two-hour sessions, facilitated by the student assistance counselor, until they were ready to begin mediating actual disputes.

Curiously, the very first mediation conducted by the students was a dispute between two members of the group, who asked the student assistance counselor to set up a mediation with two other students serving as mediators to help them resolve their dispute.  The mediation was successful, and the school’s assistant principal then allowed the program to move forward to handle actual disputes that students were having.  This model was refined, and the program now has 69 students in an open enrollment process.

3. Structure:

The students were trained to work in teams of two, with one student taking the lead as the chief mediator and the other student involved in taking notes and listening closely to the disputants while they were led through a mediation process by the chief mediator.  The typical mediation session would last for at most 45 minutes.  After that time, if no resolution had been reached, then the parties would either agree to meet again or decide that they could not solve the problem and would go to the assistant principal for his input.  Thus, the desire to come to an actual solution was high.  There were 8 mediation teams developed during the school year, and they successfully handled about 30 mediations during the remainder of the school year.  Members also received additional training in Kingian Nonviolence from a member of the Street Workers program, sponsored by Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence.  This allowed them to also work as peer helpers in situations outside of the school environment.

4. Results:

The result was that school officials recognized the program as a great success.  According to Mr. Rios, over 70 students received training and were active participants in the program during the recent school year.  Data collected at the school showed that there had been a clear decline in the number of school suspensions and disciplinary actions.  The YCW Conflict Resolution program has been adopted by PASA as one of its school-based after school offerings.  A grant proposal was recently submitted by Mr. Rios to expand the program next year to all five Providence middle schools via PASA’s AfterZone programming, which allows students to select program that they will participate in twice a week.  Mr. Rios continues to serve as the program director of the West End Community Center, which is responsible for overseeing all the PASA programs that take place at the Gilbert Stuart Middle School and the Bridgham Middle School.

Conflict Resolution Resources

1.         Cohen, Richard. 1995. “Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools.”  Goodyear Books.

2.         Community Boards. “Peer Mediation for Middle Schools: A Training and Implementation Guide.” San Francisco, CA.

3.         Flannery, Daniel J. 1997. “School Violence, Risk, Prevention Intervention & Policy.” Kent State University & University Hospitals of Cleveland.

4.         Jones, T. 2000. “Conflict Resolution Education: Goals, Models, Benefits and Implementation.” Temple University.

5.         Kreidler, William J. 1997.  “Conflict Resolution in Middle School.”  Educators for Social Responsibility: Newton, MA.

6.         Kreidler, William J. and Lisa Furlong. 1997. “Adventures in Peacemaking: A Conflict Resolution Guide for School-Age Programs Educators for Social Responsibility.” Newton, MA.

7.         “Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising.” A REPORT TO THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS, Prepared for the National Institute of Justice by Lawrence W. Sherman, Denise Gottfredson, Doris MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn Bushway (2000).

8.         Schrumpf, Fred, Donna K. Crawford, and Richard J. Bodine. 1997. “Peer Mediation: Conflict Resolution in Schools: Student Manual.” Research Press, Revised Edition.

9.         Zimmer, Judy. 1993. “We Can Work It Out: Problem Solving Through Mediation.” Street Law, Inc.: Silver Springs, MD.