Suspensions plummet with peer mediation, but at this school, it’s just another program that’s going away

APeermeds

Mt. Diablo High School peer mediators Cheyna Reed, Dajon (Broddy) Mathis, Ashley Holmes and Kristen Burns.

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In May 2011, Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, CA, hired social worker Deonne Wesley to coordinate a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Safe and Supportive Schools program. The program was set up to “create and support safe and drug-free learning environments and to increase academic success for students in these high-risk schools”.

It took a year for California to lay the foundation for the program, and another year for each of the 58 participating school districts to hire staff. At Mt. Diablo, which has 1,340 students, the program was up and running during the 2012-2013 school year.

Wesley trained 18 students to be peer mediators to work with students who were suspended for fighting, and to help prevent fights.

Those mediators worked with 46 students who had racked up 51 days of suspension for fighting in school. The peer mediators, with Wesley supervising, helped the students talk out the dispute and come to an agreement on how to avoid further conflict. Afterwards, the number of suspensions for those 46 students dropped to 19 for the rest of the school year.

The grant also funded a part-time drug and alcohol counselor. She led four eight-week workshops and two ongoing harm-reduction groups. Prior to attending the workshops, 80 students who attended at least two workshops had accumulated 242 days of suspensions. After they attended the workshops, the suspensions in that group dropped to six.

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What I learned about the importance of ‘tend and befriend’ while surrounded by a SWAT team

aswat2The pretty South African woman sitting next to me said our flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth was taking longer than expected, although I hadn’t noticed. I arrived in South Africa only a few hours before. Jet lagged, I was wrestling with the cellophane wrapper guarding the plastic cutlery that came with my in-flight meal.

She told me she was flying to “PE” (what the locals call Port Elizabeth) to attend a luncheon with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had flown there earlier that day. As she smoothed her cocktail dress and pushed a loose hair behind her ear, she asked if she could squeeze pass me for a quick exit once the plane touched down.

Having learned Clinton was in town, I wasn’t surprised when we landed and could see emergency vehicles, their lights flashing, parked near the terminal. Cynically, I thought of the money and resources spent in the spirit of good deeds, something I too was guilty of as I flew from the U.S. to South Africa for a conference on violence in the Congo. As if there wasn’t plenty of violence in America I could be addressing.

Of late, I had come to expect violence as commonplace. The last two years as a trauma-focused psychotherapist largely involved supporting people as they worked to create lives without violence or its lingering effects. That’s what being “trauma-informed” often means: being violence informed. It wasn’t easy work. I was suffering a bad case of vicarious traumatization from supporting too many people who had been senselessly hurt and were still hurting, often decades after being victimized. Some

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