Originally created 09/08/02

Program targets violence



Robert Balbosa made sure his son Dontae was up bright and early Saturday morning to attend the Peer Mediation Kickoff at Bayvale Elementary School.

"Anything to stop violence in schools, it's important to be here," Mr. Balbosa said. Dontae, an 11-year-old Murphey Middle School pupil, joined about 60 others at an introductory seminar explaining an anti-school violence approach called Peer Mediation.

To prevent tragedies such as the April 1999 Columbine High School killings from recurring, the Richmond County Board of Education is using a federal initiative called the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act from 1994.

Peer mediators are pupils trained from primary through high school ranks to diffuse tempers of fellow pupils - quelling fights, drug use and trouble in its early stages, said Allison Campbell, the director of the Safe and Drug-Free project for Richmond County schools.

"It's a fresh approach to help students as it applies to different populations we come in contact with," said Mrs. Campbell, a graduate of Eastside High School in Patterson, N.J., where principal "Crazy" Joe Clark promoted school disciplinary tactics that became the basis of in the 1989 film Lean on Me.

"Techniques have to be different," Mrs. Campbell said. "Violence is all around us, and it can be avoided. It's designed to develop alternatives to arguing and violence. Mr. Clark was a strong leader, and that's what's needed. There's a different breed of youth out here," she said.

Cheryl Fry, the principal at Bayvale Elementary, has used peer mediators at her school going on three years. "It's working. Fights have drastically been reduced," said the former T.W. Josey High School assistant principal.

Peer mediation is not mandatory at all county schools, so the kickoff further introduced the concept to teachers, parents and guidance counselors at the session.

"Peer involvement (in county schools) has been around for several years," said Carol Rountree, the guidance director for Richmond County schools. "Students tend to know about problems first. This gives them a chance to report it," she said.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.