Hailey Madigan and Cassidy Takacs had been best friends throughout high school. But their friendship was put to the test late last year.
As it looked like the bond between the two Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute students was irreparably broken, they were referred to a new peer mediation and conflict resolution program which was in the development stage at their school.
“Honestly, if we didn’t go through it we probably wouldn’t be friends now,” Madigan said.
“We were forced to sit down and talk about it. You didn’t just hear one side. You heard what happened, where you had gone wrong and you were able to apologize.”
The On Track peer mediation program provides students with a voluntary way to resolve disputes where they meet and discuss the conflict in a private, confidential setting and develop a resolution while being supervised by fellow students, who have received specific conflict resolution training.
“By listening, I got to understand (her) point of view and sit there and know where you were coming from,” Takacs said.
The program is a pilot project as a result of a collaboration between the Lakehead District School Board and the John Howard Society of Thunder Bay, which received funding from the provincial Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
Westgate is the first Thunder Bay school to implement the program.
Program co-ordinator Domenic Barbiero, a longtime student support professional at Westgate, said the program is meant to mainly address communication, relationships and bullying among students.
Barbiero said the program has a 98-per cent success rate with 60 mediation sessions through the first semester of the school year.
“I think talking to a peer is less intimidating,” Barbiero said.
”(The mediators) have training, they follow a script, they stay neutral and they give both parties a chance to speak and I think with them being with their peer group they speak a lot more and they’re more honest and the problems get resolved a lot more than when they just go to the office.”
Barbiero said the program already has 32 students - ranging from grades 9 through 12 - as trained mediators who come from various areas of the school with different interests and friend groups.
Grade 11 student Shane Linklater is one of those and has sat in on about a dozen mediation sessions.
He said they can have a transformative impact by the time the sessions are completed.
“I’ve had times where people come in their hissing at each other and they want to hurt each other and by the time we’re done they’re hugging,” Linklater said.
Barbiero said that kind of conflict resolution makes for a better school.
“I want kids to be able to feel safe and comfortable and doing the best they can,” Barbiero said.
“When you’re in conflict with people you’re not really at your top level. You’re always concerned of what’s happening - you may pass that person in the hall or you might be in a class with that person. Resolving issues and doing it on your own is really good.”