A two year project in Dzerzhinsk (running from late 2015 to 2017) called “Attention! Conflict!”, was designed to set up mediation programmes in schools. The aim was to use peer-to-peer mediation by schoolchildren trained as mediators. Teachers and school psychologists were also involved in the establishment of the mediation service.
In recent years the number of conflicts among children in primary schools has increased sharply. Such conflicts often lead to antisocial behavior involving children of different age groups (threatening, belittling, fighting, stealing and so on). A mediation service, by giving a method for regulating quarrels using a third party mediator, aims to help children grow their social intelligence and ability to cooperate with each other. In contrast with normal practice, when teachers and school directors respond in an accusatory and punitive way, the “restorative mediation” approach aims to restore relations between the conflicting sides.
The really new thing is that schoolchildren themselves are the mediators. This “peer to peer” method works well: the project results showed that having student-mediators produced a higher degree of trust than when adults are involved.
The project succeeded in establishing a mediation system for preventing and resolving
conflicts in four schools in Dzerzhinsk. 15 school psychologists and 98 student mediators received special in-depth training, and gained considerable experience in restorative mediation. Legal and psychological support was given to project participants.
During 2016 mediators dealt with 45 conflict situations. But at the same time, teacher feedback shows that in schools where mediation services have been established, the number and severity of conflict situations has decreased.
Increased demand for the programme led to more sessions staged than were anticipated. The project culminated in a team-building exercise carried out with students from 17 Dzherzhinsk schools.
Enthusiasm has been shown by a number of schools in the city who were not originally involved in the project, but wish to set up mediation services. The findings have been fed into the “National Strategy for Actions to help Children, 201202017” by the Nizhny Novgorod Institute of Educational Development (NNIED). The project coordinator writes:
“We were pleasantly surprised by the significant interest in our work on the project at the Education Department of Dzerzhinsk and at the number of educational institutions wishing to establish school mediation services.
“Nor had we expected the independent initiative on the part of student mediators who have followed the special training sessions… They organised presentations during lessons, information displays and a school radio broadcast.
We noticed that the students really like to wear specially made ‘Mediator’ badges as if participating in a peacekeeping mission, and to feel that they are important, valued members of the school community.”