Monday, August 5, 2013

Groups offer mediation service to Des Moines schools

Organizers hope to stem the “school to prison pipeline.”

By Jon Overton

DES MOINES — Two organizations are collaborating to bring conflict resolution services to Des Moines schools called Let’s Talk.

Officials from A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) and the Iowa Mediation Service hope to help students resolve their conflicts peacefully before they escalate into criminal offenses.

AMOS Director Paul Turner said this initiative is meant to help stem “the school to prison pipeline.”

“It is an attempt to resolve conflicts in school before they become worse,” he said.

Scarlett Huey, a mediator and trainer for the Iowa Mediation Service, explained that both groups are concerned that few resources exist for youth to handle conflicts. Serious behavior often gets students in trouble, they’re kicked out of school and later actions lead to imprisonment.

Both groups are concerned about the disproportionately large minority population in Polk County juvenile detention facilities.

A report by the Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning of the Iowa Department of Human Rights found that blacks make up 10 percent of Polk County’s youth, but just over half of all detained youth in 2012 were black. 

Huey said that the racial “incarceration gap is definitely unfair, and kids getting expelled from schools more often happen to be minorities. I don’t think school administrators have that goal, it just seems that those kids don’t have as many routes to figuring out their problems.”

Turner said the two organizations are still discussing how they might implement Let’s Talk with the school district, but it can be an alternative to harsh punishments like suspension, though students’ choose whether to opt in. Huey added that this format would make the school atmosphere friendlier and help students learn to resolve problems calmly.

While AMOS provides volunteers as mediator trainees, veteran mediators from the Iowa Mediation service will train and lead small teams that schools can contact as problems arise, Turner said.

The mediation training emphasizes letting students find solutions with some guidance. Huey said volunteer mediators will learn how to “lead [students] through the questioning process instead of prescribing what we think is best.”

Turner compared the training process to an apprenticeship, explaining that training involves learning the basics of conflict resolution, role playing, observing and participating in mediations, and other activities until a mediator has enough experience to lead and train others.

Huey said that although Let’s Talk is still forming, it has substantial potential.

“At this point in time, Let’s Talk is in a very beginning situation,” she said. “I hope that it becomes more holistic, but for now, it’s just addressing one situation at a time.”

No comments:

Post a Comment