INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis middle school is teaching students how to resolve their problems without resorting to violence.
The program, created by one of the district's staff educators, is already seeing big success.
The skills they're learning are helping make a lifelong impact.
Inside Harshman Middle School, there's a room that's become a safe space for students who have been fighting to come together.
"You came to me and you told me the incident that happened and you didn't want to do what?" asked Grover Edwards, a behavioral specialist at Harshman Middle School.
"Get into a fight," a student replied.
"Get into a fight," Edwards said, nodding in agreement.
Here, the students come to bring their beef to their classmates to help resolve the issue together.
"OK. Tell me your side of the story," Edwards said, letting both sides of the students in a fight share what happened and what they're doing to address the situation and resolve it without further issue.
Edwards helps guide the discussion, but it's the peer mediators, fellow classmates, helping settle the score.
"Without them, there would be a lot of fights in Harshman," said Mariela Nelson, a seventh-grade student at Harshman Middle School and a peer mediator.
"It's a no-brainer. A no-brainer," Edwards said.
Edwards established the peer mediation team at Harshman Middle School a little over a year ago to help cut down on conflicts in the classroom and in the community. The student-led group and the students in the fight are ready to assemble as soon as a problem pops up.
"As soon as there's a behavioral issue, we grab the kids, we put them together, we nip it and we go. And we'll nip it right then," Edwards said. "And I've got to applaud my teachers. The teachers, they let us pull kids out to do this program because without them, it wouldn't go either. And we jump on it right then. And when I say immediate impact, you know, yesterday we put out four fires, we had four mediations. I promise you at the end of the day, there wasn't one fight because our mediation program here at Harshman Middle School."
And the program is working.
"They come to you and say we want to be mediated and they'll put the fires out themselves. Yeah, it's amazing," Edwards said.
Nelson said she sees the change unfolding in front of her.
"In one of the mediations, they almost fought," Nelson said, talking about the students they were working with to resolve an issue. "But we got them to calm down and to really just talk to each other and talk calmly with each other. So I really think it does help the students."
The work they're doing helps students in the hallways of the school and around Indianapolis.
"And I actually helped some of my friends stop fighting with each other. Even adults couldn't get them to stop, but I was able to get them to stop fighting," said Carmaine Bell, an eighth-grade student at Harshman Middle School and a peer mediator.
"Like, wow," Edwards said. "You know, this kid is putting out fires outside of school because of the support and the confidence he got from peer mediation. It's a game changer. It's definitely a game changer, something I would never want to give up."
And the lessons learned are leaving a lasting impact.
Most of the students find their peer mediation so motivating, they can do it themselves. Edwards said roughly eight in 10 students don't need to come back.
"So we see two out of 10. We're trying to work that two to be probably 10%. So it's some work, but we've just got to keep putting forth into it," he said.
Teaching students conflict resolution at this young age, Edwards said, can help them to succeed years down the road.
"The two groups come together and agree to solve the conflict. But behind that, we're trying to carry it over to a restorative practice, which now it goes into the communities. It goes into making stronger families, it goes into decreasing antisocial behavior, decreasing violence," Edwards said.
The peer mediation team program is gaining so much attention, Edwards was just recognized by IPS as an outstanding staff member for 2022. He's hopeful to see the program spread so it can benefit students in other schools in the district and around the state.