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Peer Mediation: On the Road to Conflict

In April 2009 a former Sarasota Military Academy student shot a man outside the downtown Sarasota movie theater when the former high school student saw the man drive down the street waving a Confederate Flag and yelling racial slurs. This event inspired the peer mediation program in the Sarasota area. The shooting shocked the community, and two experts in the field both Dr. Deri Ronis and Dr. Nat Colletta resolved to do something to help prevent a similar incident in the future.

The result was a peer mediation program in Sarasota high schools. With Dr. Ronis’s 30-plus years of experience in mediation and peer mediation training on the east coast of Florida with various organizations, and Dr. Colletta’s 25 years with the World Bank and related conflict resolution experience they both had the tools necessary to establish a curriculum and integration plan for the program in local area high schools. During the next few years this team of experts implemented the program at Venice High School and Sarasota Military Academy.

In the second half of 2013 the team got in touch with Sarasota High School to do training for a new peer mediation unit in February of this year. A new round of assistant peer mediation trainers needed to be trained to assist Dr. Ronis before the program could be brought to the high schools. Dr. Ronis and Dr. Colletta asked for support for the current program from the Sarasota World Affairs Council and from the New College of Florida. With the tremendous help from both institutions the second round of peer mediators from the New College of Florida were taught. The intention of the mediation program was to help train the high schoolers and then provide college mediators to oversee the initial high school mediation session.

Dr. Ronis met with eight New College students for one three hour session and two eight hour sessions of intensive peer mediation training. The training program involved, among other things, active listening instruction, educational videos, and mock mediation sessions. In February these mediators brought the program to its final destination at Sarasota High School. The training of the high schoolers took place over two eight hour days. Twenty-two students participated in total, however, not all could finish the training because of scheduling conflicts. Those who did not complete the training still obtained valuable communication skills and can can help in conflict resolution among peers regardless of their certification. Sarasota High School fully supported the program and provided food for the students and trainers. The high school students engaged closely with the material and showed personal drive to learn about peer mediation. The most common reason the students gave for joining the program was to help their friends resolve conflicts. The training of both the college mediators and the high school mediators were of great success.

The above picture was taken January 2014 on the last day of mediation training with the New College and High School student mediators at Sarasota High School.

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