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In a predicament? Call a peer

Imagine you're in middle or high school and someone is making fun of your clothes, calling you names or trying to start a fight. She won't let up. The situation seems to get worse every day.

You are in a predicament, and you need help.

This is a job for peer mediators, the solution in many middle and high schools to problem solving and conflict resolution.

Students still get help from guidance counselors, but schools also offer trained students to help other students solve problems. Peer mediators are qualified to serve in this role after a two-day training session.

The word peer is key, because students are more likely to talk to other students than to adults.

Most conflicts in middle or high school occur because of cultural, racial or economic differences. A lack of tolerance for economic inequality can lead to picking on someone because he doesn't wear Nike or Fubu clothing. Racial differences can spur mean remarks about a person's skin color. Cultural differences can result in criticism or discrimination because people live differently or practice different religions.

Here is how peer mediation works: A student who has a problem or conflict that needs resolving contacts her guidance counselor, who reviews the Student Code of Conduct with the student first, then decides whether a peer mediator session is necessary. If it is, the counselor sets up a meeting with the students involved and one or two mediators. No adults are present at the meeting, to encourage full discussion.

After peer mediators listen to both sides of the story, successful mediations end with an agreement being reached, written out and signed by all parties.

Student mediators learn ground rules during their training, including the most important one, that all discussions remain confidential.

Tiffany Giarla, 14, an eighth-grader at Largo Middle School, has been a peer mediator since sixth grade and says she likes helping students.

What's a common reason students end up in peer mediation?

"Usually rumors about a student that aren't true," says Tiffany, or situations in which one student says something about another student but hasn't heard the whole story. "I have had five cases so far this year, and all of them have been resolved."

Most schools have peer mediators, so if you want or need to talk to a peer mediator or if you think you would make a good peer mediator yourself, ask your guidance counselor.

So, the next time you have a problem at school, who ya gonna call? PEER MEDIATORS.

Tashyra Feazell, 13, is in the eighth grade at Largo Middle School.

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