by Kech Carrera
Safe School Ambassadors is now in its 4th year at PMS. In our annual 2-day training, this year facilitated by Kech Carera and Michael Friesen, 75 6th, 7th and 8th grade students we trained. At its core, the Safe School Ambassadors program is an “inside-out” approach to improving school climate, one that relies on social norms and the power of students to help stop bullying and violence. Student bystanders see, hear, and know things adults don’t, can intervene in ways adults can’t and are often on the scene of an incident before an adult. The Safe School Ambassadors program empowers student bystanders in all grades to speak up and intervene with their peers in bullying related incidents.
Students were nominated for SSA by their teachers, peers and themselves based upon specific criteria such as: strong position and influence in their peer group, good communications skills, and a history of standing up for friends. This year we took 40 new 6th, 7th and 8th graders and added them to our veteran 35 returning from last year to make a total of 75 students to participate in a two-day interactive training along with several adults who serve as program mentors. The training gives student Ambassadors the motivation and skills to resolve conflicts, defuse incidents and support isolated and excluded students. After the training, small “family groups” continue to meet every other week. These meetings, led by adult mentors, provide time for strengthening skills and offering support which help sustain student and adult commitment to the program.
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The Peer Mediation Program was brought to Piedmont Middle School more than 20 years ago and is PUSD’s longest running leadership program. The essence of the program is to empower students at the middle school to resolve conflicts in a respectful way and to trust them to find solutions that they determine as useful and meaningful for themselves. Our 7th and 8th grade Peer Mediators are taught how to help disputants through this process through active listening, digging deeper for feelings and helping students hear and empathize with each other.
For more than 10 years now, the training of the middle school mediators has been entrusted to former mediators now at the high school. Despite the challenge of missing 2 days of high school classes–there is never a shortage of volunteers to help with the annual training that happens each fall. This year, more than 35 students from 9-12th grades helped make the training a success. Their commitment and dedication is called upon in many ways; every student is assigned a part of the training to teach to the entire group. Each high schooler becomes a mentor to a middle school buddy, taking on the responsibility of making sure that their “mentee” is understanding the process and coming along in their skills in becoming a peer mediator over the course of the two days. And then there are the practice mediations… probably the most fun of their responsibilities, they must come up with realistic and ever more challenging practice mediations for the middle schools to practice their new mediation skills. With help and feedback, more training, and lots of practice emerges a group of middle schoolers who go back to PMS ready to willing to help their classmates resolve the toughest of adolescent problems!