Who knew? We — seniors, empty nesters, nonparents — can’t claim to have first-hand knowledge about our schools. We do, however, read about the negatives; that’s why it was so great to attend a really positive event May 6 in Sun City Center.
A roomful of fourth and fifth graders gathered at United Community Church for the fifth annual Area 8 Peace Conference. The 60 “peer mediators” represented six elementary schools in the Hillsborough County school system: Apollo Beach, Collins, Corr, Wimauma, Summerfield Crossings and Thompson (Ruskin).
Conference theme: Mediators: Giving the Gift of Peace While Sharing It with the World.
The young peer mediators are taught such mediation methods as encouraging the two disputants to come up with solutions, find things they agree on and walk away from conflicts.
They are also trained in body language, paraphrasing, understanding feelings and effective listening/communicating. The mediators primarily deal with student-student issues, but they can help with student-teacher conflicts as well. School counselors are always near in case the mediator needs help, and they love to hear feedback about how the mediators use their training outside school (friends, siblings or even parents). One shared a mediator’s comment: “Do you realize that adults fight over sillier things than we kids do?”
Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent of Schools Jeff Eakins attended to show his support for the program. In his opening remarks, he praised the mediators for helping fellow students make better choices and contributing to a better school culture. Most of the school counselors and principals were also on hand and echoed the comment of Wimauma Principal Ismael F. Lebron-Bravo: “The program makes my job easier. Students can hash out many of their problems.”
The purpose of the conference, according to organizer Sue Chapin, is to fuel enthusiasm and pride in being chosen for the program. She said some of the traits they look for are: good character and leadership skills, manners, respect for others and the ability to keep things confidential. In a nutshell, they serve as role models, but she pointed out that they are not necessarily the A and B students.
Chapin was presented with flowers in appreciation of her efforts in organizing this and the previous four conferences. She plans to retire this year after 46 years in the school system, with 11 of them as counselor at Collins Elementary School. She says her planned retirement is bittersweet because she loves the kids — about 1,000 over the years — but she expects to come back as a volunteer.