CONFLICT RESOLUTION/ALTERNATIVES TO SUSPENSION
Middle school students in Red Hook, Brooklyn, concerned about physical conflict among kids and teens in their community, successfully advocated for a school-based peer mediation program. During the Research phase, they discovered that students who were inclined to resolve conflict through fighting did so either because of external pressure from peers or family members, or because they could not calm themselves down when provoked. The students felt strongly that the positive potential of peer pressure, through a school-based mediation program, would provide young people in their community with the tools they need to resolve conflict peacefully, as well as the motivation to consider non-physical options. They organized and delivered a powerful presentation to members of their school administration who, after approving the proposal, followed up by bringing in an outside expert to train students to be effective mediators.
High school students, concerned about disruptive student behavior as well as what they considered an overly punitive school disciplinary system, created a school-based Youth Court to improve the school climate.
Through Youth Court, students are trained to serve as jurors, judges and attorneys, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses both pay back the community and receive the help they need to stay out of trouble and succeed in school. A Youth Court does not decide guilt or innocence; to participate a student must admit violating school rules. The Youth Court jury focuses on determining the appropriate rehabilitative sanctions which can include community service, reflective essays and letters of apology.
The school principal agreed to allow the Youth Court to hear cases involving students who were eligible for suspension after violating multiple minor school rules. Youth Court Respondents who completed their sanctions also were invited to become members of Youth Court.