Steps toward a solution

Peace Walk program trains student mediators to help classmates learn to resolve disputes among themselves

FOURTH-GRADERS, FROM left, Michael Dove and Oskar Kangas are close to resolving a disagreement as they practice the steps of a Peace Walk with the help of peer mediators Annaliese Lucas and Macy Linsenbigler. The steps of the Peace Walk were painted on the playground at North Elementary School of the Arts by Kristen Stanchina’s Mixmasters Club at Iron Mountain High School. The painted six steps of the Peace Walk help the students visualize the mediation process. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — There are two sides to any disagreement, but understanding how the other person is feeling can be hard for adults to grasp, let alone elementary-age students.

With the help of funding from the local Kiwanis Club and United Way of Dickinson County, fourth-graders from North Elementary School of the Arts this year learned how to help mediate conflicts among their peers.

“Peace Walks teach young children how to have fair arguments,” said Barb Reisner, director of Great Start. Reisner has been using this training model in Peace Walk mediation for the past 25 years. She started the program her first year as a school counselor in West Allis, Wis.

And after two years of piloting the school Peace Walk program, North Elementary is ready to begin Peace Walk mediations at the start of the 2017-18 school year, Reisner said.

The Kiwanis Peace Walk Training Team will be back to host another training at North in September.

“The success of Peace Walk mediators is based on cross-age mentoring — older students helping younger students, kids helping kids. It’s a type of mentoring model that always works,” said Jonathan Ringel, a member of the Kiwanis Club and training team.

Fourth-grade teacher Brian Waitrovich feels this model is successful because it teaches the children the process in six easy steps — and they are the mediators.

“By learning this process, they can talk things out and understand their difference of opinion on something. It also helps them come to their own resolution, which they agree to instead of an adult telling them what they should do,” Waitrovich said.

He added that oftentimes when a suggestion comes from an adult, the child will walk away and feel it was forced upon them.

With the Peace Walk mediation, both sides have to be in agreement to reach the final step — acceptance or peace. Although Waitrovich said that it’s not going to solve all problems, just going through the process can help the children see the situation from the other side.

“They are able to say how they feel and the other person standing across from them has to listen and think about how the other person is feeling,” Waitrovich added.

The training for the school mediators involves learning six steps to reach an agreement. To help the students at North visualize these steps, the Iron Mountain High School Mixmasters Club painted the steps and words on the playground.

The first step is Want — and answers the question, “Have you come here to solve your problem?”

The second step is Feel — how they feel about the problem — followed by step three, Reason, explaining why this is a problem.

Step four asks the students to Listen to what was said and leads to what the Solution can be in step 5.

The final step is to Agree to the solution and shake hands. The art club students depicted this final step as a colorful peace sign at the center of the walk.

Reisner said they also must agree to follow six simple rules if they are going to have a fair Peace Walk — what is said stays there, don’t take sides, listen to each other, tell the truth, be polite and work together.

Fourth-grader Annaliese Lucas said she likes this program because they learn to work out problems or arguments and can be friends in the end.

“The steps are easy to use and remember. It just feels good to be a mediator and help people,” Lucas said.

She been able to use the Peace Walk method outside of school as well, Lucas said, taking two friends through the steps to help settle the argument.

“We all still remained friends after it — that was the best part,” she said.

North Elementary fourth-grader Michael Dove has seen the process work and thinks going over the reason behind the dispute is most important.

“You find out why people did something and how it made the other person feel. It helps to talk about it and by doing it (Peace Walk) you can still be friends,” Dove said.

The steps in the Peace Walk are what Macy Linsenbigler, a fourth-grader at North Elementary, finds the best part of the program.

“They (the steps) are easy to remember and I was able to use it at home, too. I think most kids want to be friends and not have disagreements,” Macy added.

“After implementing Peace Walk programs, schools notice less teasing and bullying as well as an improved school climate,” Reisner said.

Waitrovich said they try to pick students as mediators who set good examples for their peers.

“We are looking for someone with certain qualities — not taking sides, having a positive outlook, handling a problem on their own, and are open to this mediation program,” Waitrovich said.

Ringel said that one of the main goals of having student leaders participate as Peace Walk mediators is to create a safer school where everyone belongs.

Waitrovich said only fourth graders are trained as mediators, since they are the oldest grade at the school. This also is a skill they will take with them as they move on to fifth grade next year at East Elementary School.

In addition to the Peace Walk, the Kiwanis Aktion Club has placed a Buddy Bench on the playground at North Elementary.

Ringel said this is for students who want to talk. They sit on the bench and are joined by a peer who starts up a conversation.

Waitrovich said this program has been used when someone just needs a friend or has some problem.

“The students see someone sitting down and know they should go over and find out what that person needs,” Waitrovich said. “These programs have been positive activities for the students and made them more aware of how their peers are feeling.”