Union Street students solve student problems as peer mediators
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | January 10,2013
Christian Avard / Staff Photo
Union Street Elementary School 5th grader Ryan Kirker, 11, (far left) and fellow peer mediators talk to Mrs. Elizabeth’s Harty’s third-grade class about student peer mentoring. Sitting next to Kirker are fifith-grade peer mediators Kristos Iliopoulos, 11, Nadine Spiegel, 11 and Jessica Cerniglia, 10.
SPRINGFIELD — Fifth-graders Nadine Spigel, 11, Jessica Cerniglia, 10, Ryan Kirker, 11, and Kristos Iliopoulos, 11, are making a difference at Union Street Elementary School. They are four students who are trained in defusing potential conflicts in the school and on the playground.
On Monday, the peer mediators and their advisor, school counselor Jan Rounds, met with Elizabeth Harty’s third-grade class, performed a skit, and discussed how they can help students when trouble arises.
“We are not judges. We are not here to punish you or tell you what to do. We are here to help you resolve your conflict,” Kirker said in a skit performed with peer mediators.
The students acted out a situation that would be hurtful, imagining a student who is left out of an activity by a friend. Kirker and Cerniglia asked Iliopoulos and Spigel what they could do to make the situation better. They each suggested ideas and eventually came to an agreement. The Union Street peer mediation program is in its 13th year at Union Street Elementary. According to faculty and staff, the program is effective in helping students solve problems in a constructive manner.
“We have 12 peer mediators who advised in 23 situations. They sat down with kids and helped them figure things out on their own.”
Rounds was introduced to student peer mediation at Riverside Middle School. She took the program model and worked with fifth-graders in their final year at Union Street Elementary.
Rounds teaches all fourth-graders in peer mediation and they receive certification. Teachers choose 12 students as mediators while those not chosen can volunteer as deputies.
The deputies monitor students on the playground, in classrooms, and in other areas where students congregate. They refer problematic situations to peer moderators who take over from there.
Even when students are not selected as peer moderators, many are eager to fill in as deputies. “Being a deputy is voluntary but we have 70 deputies who are willing to help out. They also enjoy the responsibilities they have,” Rounds added.
Having student mediators and deputies has made Union Street a supportive school for everyone. Knowing that fifth-graders are helping them find solutions contributes to a positive learning environment.
According to the fifth-graders who spoke to Harty’s class, being a peer moderator is more than just helping students.
“It’s about leadership, helping people and teaching them skills to where they want to go,” Iliopoulos said.
“It feels good because you know you can help people,” she said.
Spigel added that mediation skills also help outside of the classroom and are empowering.
“These skills can be used in families. They are good skills to know and I feel strong,” Spigel said.