Mel Cooke, STAR Writer
As the new school year started on Monday, students at Dunoon Technical High School were introduced to new teachers in the auditorium of the St Andrew institution.
They also met 28 of their fellow students, not for the first time, but for the first time in their capacity as Peace and Love in Society peer mediators. They were trained over four days during the summer holidays, as the PALS programme begins in over 100 schools under an arrangement with the Ministry of Education.
"You will hear them refer to themselves as conflict managers also," PALS trainer Sybil James, who did the introductions, told students in the packed auditorium. "They serve their school by helping other students resolve conflicts."
PALS trainer Michael Cohen is the school's coordinator and will have direct contact with the Dunoon peer mediators throughout the school year. PALS trainer Sheron Barnes-Wilmott also worked with the students.
With the peer mediators/conflict managers, new badges on their shirts and tunics, standing before the general assembly, James explained their roles.
"They operate in pairs and are scheduled for duty by the coordinator. They assist students in peaceful expression and resolution of their conflicts," she said. Students may be referred to the peer mediators/conflict managers by the principal, teachers or other students, or they may go voluntarily.
James emphasised that the process is voluntary and the peer mediator/conflict managers are "facilitators, not judges or disciplinarians. They help students express their conflicts and find their own best solution."
"They won't tell you what to do. They won't say who is right or wrong. They invite you, the students, the disputers, to come up with your own solutions. The philosophy is that students can handle their conflicts themselves," James said.
Teachers, then, should not have to interrupt their schedules to "deal with little conflicts", while the students will learn to handle their own conflicts, which will serve them well as they go into the wider society.
"It gives me great pleasure to present to you the conflict-resolution managers of Dunoon," James said, to general applause.
Romaine Brown and Felecia Hibbert were asked to indicate how the PALS training had affected them, Brown saying, "we have learnt how to discipline ourselves and deal with problems".
"We are here to help you deal with your problems," Brown said. "We are here as a guideline, so when you go into the society you know how to manage your conflicts."
And Hibbert said "it helped me to deal with my conflict and show others how to deal with theirs."
The introductions over, James told THE STAR that for three days in July and, a final day, last Friday, the peer mediators/conflict managers were taught conflict-resolution skills, such as anger management, understanding, resolving conflicts and effective communication".
"They responded positively, although we introduced a new way of dealing with conflicts, which was sort of new to them, and they thought they would not be able to deal with conflicts in a positive way. First we had to teach them to deal with their conflicts if they were to deal with others," James said.
"It was a challenge because they 'don't take no chat'. When we were telling them to walk away - they don't walk away, especially the boys, because you are soft."
The students were selected based on their leadership qualities, James explaining that it did not necessarily mean "the brightest, most cooperative, most disciplined". Students who are able to deal with their peers were selected to be peer mediators/conflict managers.
There will be further PALS programmes at Dunoon, as teachers need to be trained and there will be a student-leader programme with Cohen having direct responsibility for the projects. "In the school there is a change in the culture programme, a critical management programme."
"I have quite a lot to do," Cohen told The STAR.