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Solutions in Sight: Relationships -
Conflict Resolution

Community Service: Volunteers Give and Get

A Conversation with Michael Osborne
June 1997

During his senior year, a time when most high school students take a well deserved rest, Michael was part of a unique "Peer Mediation" project. Using conflict resolution skills, he was part of team that worked to make the peace between feuding factions in his school. After graduation he took his skills to a special summer camp near his home in Raleigh County, West Virginia. There he worked with kids at risk and discovered that as a volunteer, he personally gained as much than the young people he helped.

Michael OsborneThe InSite: Michael, tell me about this summer camp where you worked.

Michael: It's for disadvantaged kids, 6th and 7th graders. Mostly problem children who are having a hard time at home and a hard time at school. Fighting.

TI: What kinds of things do you do at the camp?

Michael: The kids are mostly there for fun but we try to get them ready for junior high school with skills classes so they can get better involved with different activities at school because they are at risk for getting into trouble.

TI: How do the kids get to the camp? Are they sent by their schools?

Michael: No. They are invited. They don't have to come.

TI: Sounds like a great idea! How did you hear about the camp?

Michael: Well, at my high school we have a thing called "Peer Mediation" where we help kids with their problems at school and with their parents. We were trained by someone from the Board of Education. That's the person who started the camp and that's how I got involved.

...we help kids with their problems at school
and with their parents.

TI: How long has this program been going on?

Michael: This was the sixth year.

TI: That's long enough to know whether the camp is helping the kids.

Michael: It is! We've seen a lot of good results. In fact, some of our counselors right now are students from that first year.

TI: That's wonderful! So even in a short time you could make a difference and get somebody going in the right direction in their lives.

Michael: There are ten different schools in the same area but we work with the kids in the same school. We get them to make new friends and that it helps them to calm down a lot.

TI: What happens to the kids after camp is over? Does anyone keep in touch with them when they go back to school?

Michael: The counselors, like me, don't have the time during the school year. But the director does. He follows up with them, to see how they're doing in school. But we do get involved with some of the kids. This year we had two deaf children. These kids were not in a special school. They were in public education. And that was part of their problem. I try to go visit them as much as I can because it does no good over the telephone.

TI: Yeah, right! So do you know sign language?

Michael: They taught me a little bit. And I'm trying to learn a bit more.

TI: So you went through this peer mediation training program in your school and then you got involved in the camp. What kinds of things does the peer counseling program do during the school year?

Michael: Suppose someone comes up and tells me or one of the other peer counselors that his friend might have a problem with drugs or something like that.

TI: What's the school policy on drugs?

Michael: The school policy? No drugs!! So if we hear that someone has a problem with drugs we try to bring him in and sit him down. Then another counselor and I try to talk out the situation to where we can get it resolved. If it's gone too far we recommend that they go to the principal or a higher authority than us.

Then another counselor and I try to talk out the situation to where we can get it resolved.

TI: I can imagine in a peer situation a kid on drugs might get pretty resistant to listening to you. Like they might say "I don't have a problem with drugs! Get outta my face!" Right?

Michael: [laughing] It can be very hard. The drug situation is definitely the hardest.

TI: How about a situation where it isn't so hard for you, as a peer counselor, to do your job?

Michael: Suppose somebody spreads a rumor about somebody else and it gets back to them. Then we bring in the person who started the rumor and the person it was about and see what they're having problems with. We've had a lot of situations like that. We bring them in, we talk it out and we usually get it resolved.

TI: Exactly how does it work?

Michael: Peer Mediation is there to settle it. Not to have the people talk to each other, but to talk through the mediator. In that situation, when someone is making up rumors, sometimes we just tell them not to talk to the other person for a while until their feelings calm down. Usually when someone does something like that it's because the other person has done something to upset them.

Peer Mediation is there to settle it [conflict situations]. Not to have the people talk to each other, but to talk through the mediator.

TI: And after the peer mediation session?

Michael: We try to keep up with them and see how it's going. And if it still keeps on happening we give it to the principal to handle.

TI: Any success stories?

Michael: We have lots of them. Most of the time someone comes in fighting, they find out part of the story they weren't told... a missing piece... and they figure out they really reacted the wrong way because they didn't know the whole story.

TI: So are you interested in studying psychology, Michael?

Michael: No. Engineering.

TI: Engineering?!

Michael: [laughing] That's far off, isn't it?

TI: It seems like it is.

Michael: But I plan on continuing my community service work. Through the work-study program [at University of West Virginia] they have a community service thing. I might look for opportunities to work with kids younger than me or my same age.

TI: It sounds like you've had some really excellent experience doing peer counseling. Has it helped you deal with your own friends and conflicts outside of school?

Michael: I would say that it has helped a lot of my listening skills. I just really figure out what the problem is with something and try to get it worked out.

TI: Which is exactly what engineers do! How about conflicts with your parents? Has this helped you reason with them.

Michael: I would say it does.

TI: So in a way, like all volunteer work, the volunteer helps out and gives something of him/herself, the way you did, and gets something from the experience.

Michael: Yes, I would say that I gained a lot from everybody. And the people that I worked with, they are just like family.

I would say that [Peer Mediation] has helped a lot of my listening skills. I just really figure out what the problem is with something and try to get it worked out.

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