Peer Advocates at Fenn: Choosing to Step Up Rather than Stand Back
The new Jafari Library often has a very lively feel to it bright and early in the day as more than three dozen boys gather there after they are arrive at Fenn and before they report to their advisors. The 7:30-8:20 time slot in the library is a buzz of activity as friends meet friends to hang out, boys are studying alone or in groups, foursomes are playing cards, boys are using computers, and avid readers are choosing new books. It’s a real hub of activity and a center of campus, and to a librarian, it is a thrill to see. On a recent Saturday this same level of activity filled the library again as 47 of the 2013-14 Peer Advocates arrived for their fall training session.
Peer Advocates at Fenn are a group of young men who have chosen to be available to help others work through conflicts. They try to intervene in conflicts between peers as they occur, and avert the need for adults to step in. Conflicts are often stressful enough without adding both a generational layer and authoritative air to them. The efforts of the Peer Advocates help create a more peaceful school.
Peer Advocates receive training on:
- recognizing the signs of conflict
- using opening statements to offer to help in a conflict between two people
- practicing reflective listening to help understand the viewpoints of both sides of a conflict
- utilizing conflict resolution techniques
- preventing bullying
The boys I spoke with in my small group on Saturday morning were returning peer advocates. They talked about how this training has helped them at home with conflicts within their families and in situations at school with their friends and fellow students. We reviewed techniques they’d learned before by role playing scenarios and sharing stories from our own lives. Meanwhile, new students in the Peer Advocate program were given a presentation overview of the program and returning peer advocates began the process of making a mission statement for the group.
The skills learned in the peer advocate program are useful for lessening the stress of daily life. Acknowledging that conflicts are a part of normal life and working through them effectively is a life skill that the students in this program will benefit from long after they leave Fenn.
We spent the last hour looking at the findings in a new book by Rosalind Wiseman titled Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World. This parenting book points out the trappings of the stereotypes of typical “manly” behavior among young men and talks about how conflicts arise between guys because of these stereotypes. By naming the traits of these stereotypes and learning to recognize them, the peer advocates will better understand the pressures they and their friends live with simply because of our culture. The good news was that while everyone in the room had some knowledge and/or experience of the “manly” traits described by this author, the Peer Advocates reported that the uglier traits of typical guy culture are largely absent from their Fenn experience. The young men in this group are taking it upon themselves to ensure that the Fenn experience is a positive one for just about everyone here. The Peer Advocate training was an inspiring day of Sua Sponte in action.
Peer advocates will continue to meet monthly in grade level lunch meetings to build a supportive community and to hone their conflict resolution skills. In February there will be another Saturday training session devoted to the topic of formal peer mediation, in which an ongoing conflict between two people results in the need to sit down with a peer advocate and try to work out the details of a compromise on paper. In mediation the boys learn to be a neutral party and to de-escalate conflicts so that the people involved can come to consensus.
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