DOVER-FOXCROFT – Foxcroft Academy has its own peacekeepers, but they don’t wear camouflage, stalk the halls or carry weapons.
You might be able to pick them out in a crowd, although it’s doubtful. The peacekeepers known as “peer mediators” are pretty low-key students – unless an argument or disagreement arises, and then they spring into action to restore order.
FA’s peer mediators are a diverse group of 15 students who work to resolve conflicts among students, as well as students and teachers, to improve the school atmosphere.
“They fly under the radar and they don’t really receive accolades [for their service],” adviser Dorene Emerson said recently. “They’re just quality people who have a really neat work ethic.”
The idea behind the program is to provide students the skills to resolve disputes in constructive ways rather than resorting to violence, according to Emerson. After in-depth training, the mediators are encouraged to resolve disputes or ease hatred among fellow students. Their training comes from role-playing, discussions of group dynamics, communication skills and other activities, typically off campus.
The success of the FA team, which has assisted other schools in the development of similar programs, has not gone unnoticed.
Because of their reputation as “dynamic, knowledgeable, experienced presenters,” the FA team was asked to present a workshop at the 2006 Peer Leadership Conference held in South Portland, according to Molly O’Connell, training and projects coordinator for the Maine Youth Action Network. She said the event each year brings together nearly 500 middle and high school students and their adult supporters to gain new information, skills and connections to help them create positive change in their communities.
“Youth engagement is a critical part of the community change process,” O’Connell said recently, and peer mediators help bring change.
Much of the success of the peer mediation program at FA, which is now in its 16th year, falls to Emerson, the longtime FA teacher and adviser who initiated the program in 1992. FA was the first high school in the state to offer the program.
“I think its success comes back to Dorene directly as their leader or coordinator, and I think her sensitivity, her background and knowledge for what kids need … plays a big role in that,” Gloria Burleigh of Corinth said recently.
Burleigh, a Central High School teacher and adviser, sought help from Emerson and her team when she decided to start a similar peer mediation program in 1998 at her school.
“When it comes to our training, she can quickly assess my group and determine where the needs are, and she can, on the spot, come up with activities that are going to be the right fix to get our group going.”
While that praise may be worthy, Emerson quickly deflects the attention to her students, who, she says, are good at what they do.
“It’s rare in our school to find a group of people who not only care about the school community but also each other. We truly care about each other,” mediator Molly Cyr said recently. “We often challenge each other in what we say or do, and that’s helpful to keep us in check.”