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Class lets kids argue, teaches them to mediate themselves

By Paul Nelson  |  Posted Apr 21st, 2010 @ 8:30am


SALT LAKE CITY -- Peer mediation isn't like a typical debate class where students take positions on whatever they read in the news. This class gets a lot more personal.

Utah Dispute Resolution Youth Program Coordinator Noreen Roeca says, "The teenagers actually sit down with other teenagers who are disputants or having some conflict with each other."

In the past, they've helped students who were arguing about stuff that may seem silly to adults. These arguments often include phrases like "he looked at me funny," or, "she's talking about me behind my back."

Roeca says their course helps the teens get past the surface issues of the beef between the two students to get to the real problem. She says the mediations can get pretty emotional and intense. They'll even let the kids raise their voices if they need to.

"We'll let the argument escalate to some point, but the mediators are trained to know when to intervene and when to stop and what to listen for," she says.

There are some ground rules for the class. Screaming is not allowed, nor is name calling. But conflict is always present in this classroom. Roeca says conflict is a natural part of life, and many teens try to avoid it at all costs. However, she feels kids need to learn how to properly respond to conflict, and avoidance doesn't solve the problem.

The main difference between this class and a debate is that debates need to have a winner and a loser. Roeca says kids in her class are working for a win-win scenario.

"In the process of mediation, nobody tells them what to do," she explains. "Mediation is a process where whoever is having the conflict gets a chance to talk about what they would like to have happen."

The class is taught in two schools in Utah for now. Roeca says if they could secure the funding, they'd like to expand.


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