Mason Hosts Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference

Posted: March 10, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Sharon Taylor

George Mason hosts the 11th Annual Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference today and tomorrow. The Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) cosponsors the event with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). This year’s theme is Conflict Resolution Skills: The Power to Make a Difference.

The goal of the conference is to teach young people important communication skills and the mediation process. First time participants receive introductory training in the mediation process, learn to identify and clarify issues and needs, and to problem-solve for solutions. Experienced student mediators enhance their skills in advanced workshops that cover issues such as mediating complex situations, building peaceable schools and communities, and mediating groups. Mediators put training to use in both formal and informal situations where peer mediation can contribute to productive outcomes for students.

The conference, which began with middle and high school students, has grown to include elementary schools and has become a two-day event. Participation has increased from several hundred students to more than 2,400. Marge Bleiweis, conflict resolution specialist in the Safe and Drug Free Youth section of Student Services for FCPS, attributes the growth to good results and word-of-mouth. “Schools have become excited by success stories they hear from other schools, whether they have peer mediation programs or not,” she says. “Schools benefit from the training because students can help fellow students, and in the process, create a better environment in the school.”

Sara Cobb, director of ICAR, feels the conference is a perfect tie-in to ICAR’s mission. “We are reaching these young people early in their lives, teaching them mediation and negotiation skills they can use immediately to strengthen their schools and communities, but which will serve them well throughout their lives,” she says.

Bleiweis coordinates the participation of other schools, which has grown from its Fairfax County roots to include schools in Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties, as well as in, Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park Cities. Schools from the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Md., and Norfolk are also participating.

Miss Maryland, Sonia Amir, is the keynote speaker at the opening session, which will also include greetings from the chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Kate Hanley, along with Cobb and Bleiweis.

For more information, contact Libby Thompson at (703) 993-1303.

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