Solutions in Sight:
Community Service: Volunteers
Give and Get
A Conversation with Michael
During his senior
year, a time when most high school students take a well
deserved rest, Michael was part of a unique "Peer Mediation"
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.
The 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Michael: No. 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
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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