KETCHIKAN, Alaska - Six students from Hydaburg traveled via Inter-Island Ferry Authority ferry to spend two days with Houghtaling Elementary School counselor Debbie Langford, and learn how to be peer mediators.
Langford began Houghtaling's peer mediation program in October to help students learn how to resolve issues before they escalate into bigger conflicts. She said students are given a script and steps to work through in order to resolve a small conflict. Peer mediators spend recess on the playground looking for signs of conflict between students. When they see a conflict, each peer monitor has been trained to walk through a script with the other students, to help them resolve the conflict and find a compromise if it is needed. They are also trained to know when to get help from an adult, such as when a student is using bullying behavior.
Hydaburg City School is a single-site school, with 68 students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12. When Principal Bradley King caught wind of Houghtaling's mediation program and solution to conflict, he contacted Langford to learn more about the program in hopes it would work to help resolve student issues.
"Right now (Hydaburg is) more like the grassroots thing, from the bottom up," Langford said. "But we did talk about looking at their whole system. You can start to address conflict, but you have to address bullying, too."
The visiting Hydaburg students ranged in grade level from sixth grade to eighth grade.
Hydaburg school secretary Stasha Sanderson, who made the trip as the girls' chaperone, said the training was very valuable for the students.
"A lot of kids don't understand the difference between bullying and conflict, and that really hit home for them," Sanderson said.
After two days of workshops, role playing and instructional DVDs, Langford said the Hydaburg students did very well.
"Especially since they were coming in cold," she said. "They didn't have a lot of prior knowledge, but they're off to a good start. I know (the administration is) really committed to having their leadership team start helping with resolving conflict and dealing with bullying."
To help students take ownership for their school and its culture, the Hydaburg administration created a leadership team of 13 students to help solve student issues. Conflict resolution was one of the focus points for this year's team.
"(The administration is) still trying to come up with a solution," Sanderson said.
Hydaburg sixth-grade student, Lillian Borroneo, said they have conflict "every day on the playground."
"They don't know how to get along," Borroneo said. "They just yell at each other."
Sanderson said conflict and bullying is a real issue at the school.
"I think it's significant," she said. "The School Board has talked about it a few times at their meetings because it happens so much."
Hydaburg and Houghtaling students were able to see how the program helped them and other students.
Sophia Crabtree, a sixth-grade student at Houghtaling and peer mediator, said she likes being part of the program, and the students are starting to figure out how to resolve problems by themselves.
"We have problems with basketball stuff, like not being fair or bending the rules," Crabtree said. "It kinda feels good to know they are learning something and not doing it over and over."
Sarah Palaruan, a Houghtaling sixth-grade student and peer mediator, said helping students resolve conflicts has helped her learn how to resolve conflicts with siblings and friends.
Hydaburg eighth-grader Robert Edenshaw said that while in Ketchikan he learned some new things, "like walk away and go to another game."
Borroneo said that after the training, she would be able to help students resolve conflict at school.
"Conflict is little problems, like not sharing," she said. "I can help with that stuff."
Aliyah Trout, a Hydaburg sixth grader, said she learned to be brave and speak up when she sees conflict or bullying.
"When you see someone taking someone's stuff, you can go help them," Trout said.
In addition to starting a peer mediation program, Hydaburg has created an online form for parents and students to submit an occurrence of bullying to the school for investigation.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com