In an attempt to address the issue of violence among secondary school students, a local attorney-at-law has initiated a peer meditation pilot project at the Lester Vaughan Secondary School.
Aside from being a lawyer, Maria Phillips is the principal trainer at the Caribbean Centre for Conflict Management. Her move into conflict management was triggered by seeing two lawyers engaged in a verbal confrontation on the outskirts of the court. She said it raised the question of how children could be expected to be civil to one another when adults were setting poor examples.
Under her programme, students from first to fifth form are taught about conflict management to enable them to resolve problems among themselves. It also provides them with the necessary skills to become peer meditators.
The programme was rolled out last month, on the heels of videos circulating of students engaged in acts of violence, including one in which a Lester Vaughn Secondary student was brutally beaten by several schoolmates.
“There is a need to teach persons how to resolve their issues, but we also have to recognize what is the source of the violence that we are seeing. Is it because persons are involved in drugs, for example, or is it that the violence is connected to domestic abuse? It is really necessary to find out what is the resurgence that we are seeing in recent times,” Phillips told Barbados TODAY.
She acknowledged that guidance counsellors in the secondary schools get the short end of the stick, considering that there was only one assigned to almost 800 students in most cases.
Phillips said the concept of peer meditation could therefore prove to be helpful.
“I thought maybe a peer meditator would help this school, so that students would know how to address certain types of conflict and it would cause them to think before they take action, or think before they say things as well, because people will be looking up to them now and looking to them for guidance as to ‘how will I address this?’ explained the certified meditator.
Phillip said it was vital that students understood the type of disputes which they could intervene in and those for which it was better to seek adult advice.
“We spent a lot of time stressing for them to understand that you do not get involved in bullying. . . . If you know a friend of yours is in possession of a weapon, those are the kinds of things you do not get involved in. But we say to them that you do know the things you get involved in – for example, if you have disputes in relation to something like gossiping,” she said.
“We’re not going to be training them to deal with bullying and stuff like that because I do not think at this stage they will be ready for that. That is something that more has to be dealt with from a senior teacher perspective.”
Phillips believes that by engaging students in conflict management in their formative years, a change in behaviour will result.
“We can start training students from young, that by the time we get out in the workforce, we would not have as much stress as we currently have,” she said, while highlighting that her focus was on curbing aggression among members of the younger generation.