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New Rochelle Students Help Resolve Conflicts

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Ward Elementary School students Nicki Michialides and Mikaela Strauss were two of 20 peer mediators to receive a refresher course last week from Customized Training Solutions Conflict Resolution Specialist Tara Fishler during one of her monthly visits to help students and staff prevent conflicts from escalating in the school community.

"It makes me able (to use peer mediation skills) if you see a conflict (between classmates), then you can help them,” said Nicki.

Children are trained — exactly as adult mediators are — to listen to both sides in a conflict and help those involved decide how they want to come to a resolution.

“The mediators on duty patrol the playground to see if any conflicts are brewing,” said Fishler, who has counseled students in the program for the past two years. Students know to go to one of their fellow third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in blue vests, who are trained peer mediators, if they have a problem on the school playground.

“They are trained not to get into the middle of a physical fight, but to offer assistance when their peers are not getting along,” Fishler said.

Peer mediation complements the districtwide and nationally recognized anti-bullying program Olweus ; mediators do not handle true bullying situations, when a power imbalance exists between the parties. Both programs are part of Ward’s culture of fostering understanding, respect and acceptance, said Fishler.

Fishler has also been working with Albert Leonard Middle School students.

She acknowledges that no program can necessarily prevent students with neurological impairments from causing harm, but says that it makes the conditions for such situations less likely.

“These programs teach staff and students how to help others feel included and what to do if a problem arises,” said Fishler.

Nelsie Febles, Ward Elementary School social worker and peer mediation program coordinator, says the program is very beneficial for helping students prevent conflicts among their classmates.

“It is very empowering, both for the mediators and the parties,” said Febles.

Fishler next visits the peer mediators April 20 for another refresher course.

School staff members serve as an adult peer mediation team who are always on hand to assist the student mediators every step of the way, including in situations they are not meant to handle.

The team includes Febles, social worker Judy Shulman, kindergarten teacher Angela D’Ambrosio, psychologist Dr. Melissa Swift, psychologist Dr. Sheryl Senna, fifth-grade teacher Cidalia Vincitore, and psychology interns Nancy Hollander and Emma Villaverde.

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