Area School Students Convene for Annual Peer Mediation Conference

Posted: March 8, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

The Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) again invites elementary, middle, and high school students from the metropolitan area to the Fairfax Campus to renew their commitment to violence prevention, hone their conflict resolution skills, and work for peace in their schools.

Nearly 2,000 students, with teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and volunteers, are participants and workshop facilitators at Pathways to Peace, the 12th annual Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference meeting today and tomorrow. More than 100 schools in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties, and the cities of Manassas, Alexandria, Norfolk, Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, will participate.

The conference is unusual in that it consists of workshops mostly designed and led by experienced middle and high school student mediators with adult co-facilitators. The theme emphasizes that conflict resolution skills provide the power to make a difference in mediation, communication, teamwork, listening, trust, respect, and anger management. In the workshops, participants explore how they can use their skills to help guide their peers towards peaceful resolution of conflict.

The keynote speaker this year is Juan Pacheco from Barrios Unidos/United Neighborhoods of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit organization that provides programs for youth to strengthen their community involvement and discourage their association with gangs. Pacheco, once a gang member who has turned his life around, is currently a George Mason student working toward his goal of becoming a pediatrician. He will encourage students to use their conflict resolution skills to model the use of nonviolent strategies in working out problems with peers.

Pacheco will be joined on the dais on Monday by President Alan Merten and Kathy Smith, chair of the Fairfax County School Board; and on Tuesday by Janette Muir, associate dean of New Century College, and Gerald Connolly, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. On Tuesday, special recognition will be given to ICAR alumna Lt. Col. Suzanne Devlin, acting chief of the Fairfax County Police Department.

Pathways to Peace is sponsored by ICAR and the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in cooperation with Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Department of Family Services, Fairfax County Office of Partnerships, and the Northern Virginia Mediation Service. Additional participating organizations include Alexandria City Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, Loudoun County Public Schools, Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas City Public Schools, and the Association for Conflict Resolution.

For more information, call ICAR at 703-993-1300, or Marge Bleiweis, conflict resolution specialist, Safe and Drug-Free Youth Section, FCPS, 703-876-5247.

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