BYFIELD — With much of the past year spent in a remote learning setting, members of the Peer Mediation and Citizen Outreach Initiative at Triton Regional High School shifted their focus to helping students cope with challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eben Williams has been a world languages teacher at the school for 14 years and coordinator of the program for 12 years.
Students interested in becoming peer mediators with the program must be trustworthy and mature enough to handle topics with sensitivity and discretion. To apply, they must obtain at least four recommendations or evaluations from faculty and staff.
Applications are reviewed by Williams and acceptance letters are signed by him and Principal Patrick Kelley.
Due to the pandemic, the recommendation requirement was waived this year so that all interested students would be accepted.
The program trains students to become leaders who can listen to their peers and present resolutions to conflicts they may have with one another.
Williams, who holds a doctorate in Spanish and certificate of advanced graduate studies in linguistics from University of León in Spain, said he first became interested in peer mediation while earning his master's degree in education at Regent University in Virginia.
Peer mediation takes disciplinary problems out of the hands of administrators, he said.
When a teacher or administrator notices a student is not getting along with another student, it is brought to Williams' attention.
He then selects three or four mediators to sit down one on one with the students involved in the situation to draft a resolution contract.
Students have to voluntarily agree to participate in the mediation, but they tend to be more open to peer mediation than intervention from school administrators, Williams said.
This is because teenagers open up more easily with their peers than they do with adults. There is also more likely to be a peaceful resolution, rather than punishment to deal with a problem, if it is addressed early on, he said.
Williams believes students may even avoid conflict more, just knowing there is peer mediation at the school and that they could be reported if a problem gets out of hand.
"A lot of problems in our nation's schools happen from little things that grow into bigger and larger problems," he said. "If they are not resolved on the smaller level, it becomes a greater problem."
Williams believes the program has been "very successful" in preventing any breakout of verbal or physical fights at the school over the years.
Due to the pandemic this year, mediators have spent more time on the "citizenship" aspect of the program. This means serving as both a role model for their peers and a person to turn to when they are feeling overwhelmed.
Recognizing the social and emotional constraints that students have faced, Williams had mediators reach out to fellow students just to check in and serve as a source of encouragement amid a challenging year.
"Essentially, we have been the shoulder to cry on or the hand that holds another hand to pull them along," he said.
Before the pandemic, members of the program attended an annual forum organized by the North Shore Mediation Center. They also had monthly meetings with Williams where they practiced problem solving using mock scenarios.
Williams said the Peer Mediation and Citizenship Initiative would not be possible without the support of the school administration, especially Assistant Principal Kathryn Dawe.
"For the survival and success of the Peer Mediation and Citizenship Program, the support of the administration is crucial," Williams said, noting that he knows of other schools where such programs have failed due to a lack of faith from the administration.
The peer mediators are Samuel Bagley, Evelyn Buxton, Avery Caron, Cole Daniels, Lucian Densmore, Madeline Doring, Ellie Gay-Killeen, Daniel Groder, Sean Gundrum, Maya Hayes, Maeve Heffernan, Eliot Lent, Brady Lindholm, Ryan Lindholm, Andrew Masher, Morgan Mead, Alyssa Mullen, Madison Nguyen, Kyle Odoy, Nansi Patel, Robert Richenburg, Olivia Rowe, Sofia Savino, Arthur Stanley, Jane St. Fleur, Noah St. Fleur, William Smith, Savannah Soule, James Tatro, Katherine Taylor and Riley Watkins.