Programming peace

Mediation curriculum helps children implement new ways to solve conflicts.


The world would be much better if many national leaders worldwide had participated in Martha’s Vineyard Mediation’s Youth Program as children. Since 2017, the thorough and engaging curriculum has touched some 650 Island students from second grade through high school, teaching them how to deal with conflict and build healthy relationships.

You know something is going right with what you are teaching when you get testimonials such as the following from third and fourth-graders at the Edgartown School:

“I learned the important element of staying positive in conflict [and] that we can change a conflict.”

“You taught us to de-escalate our conflicts by looking at other people’s perspectives.”

“I learned that when a conflict is happening, I can help solve it by thinking about a win-win solution.”

“I learned how to put myself into someone’s shoes and how to calm down a conflict.”

“I learned a lot, but my favorite is learning about peace.”

The Peace Curriculum consists of ten 45-minute workshops starting with identifying conflict and how to approach it. The rest cover understanding and respecting others’ feelings, why put ups and put downs cause conflict and how you can help, how we can create community, why imagining yourself in another’s shoes can help resolve conflict, the words that cause conflict and better ones to use, effective listening, calming conflict, how to create a win-win situation, and ways to find peace between people and inside ourselves.

The interactive program is designed for large and small groups, pairs, and individuals and uses age-appropriate games, stories, role-playing, and other activities. A new addition this year is a classroom poster and toolbox, reinforcing the core concepts. The wooden boxes have concrete items for students to apply to peaceful conflict resolution, including a stress ball with an emoji face that they use when sharing “I” statements about how they feel, or another item — dice with the word “win” on all sides.

A separate component includes peer mediation training, where students are taught the principles of mediation and how to act as a mediator: asking open-ended questions, facilitating the conversation between participants, helping them express their needs, and negotiating and writing up an agreement.

Since 2019, the program has also produced several mock mediation videos with older students that are used as examples in the classroom. The first group of students to create one was developed in partnership with the Aquinnah Cultural Center, which solicited Island youth to participate.

One of the program’s new endeavors this year was a collaboration with students from the Charter School’s experiential learning program. M.V. Mediation taught the Peace Curriculum and Mediation training and then had students work with MVTV access coordinator and instructor Michelle Vivian-Jemison on making a video, which they very much enjoyed. “The students were very responsive to it,” says M.V. Mediation Youth Program curriculum specialist Kiki Homer.

The initial curriculum was developed in 2017 by executive director Sara Barnes and has evolved with the input of staff trained as teachers and mediators, youth mediation program coordinator Gail Gardner, and Homer.

This year, the program focused primarily on the third grade at Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Chilmark, and the Charter schools. Along with additional grades at the various schools, it has served over 400 students this year alone. Gardner explains the choice of young students: “Developmentally, the third grade is a good time to get them started before they theoretically deal with a lot of conflicts. We’re being more proactive than reactive.”

Homer explains that they begin each class by asking what conflicts students have observed during the week. They found that third and fourth graders were willing to share about what was happening in the playground and on the bus. “We even had an opportunity to do a live mediation in the class. We uncovered the issues, their feelings about it, and how they would like to resolve them,” says Homer. “I didn’t know how it would work out, but they were honest and vulnerable. They expressed that their feelings were hurt to one another, and at the end, they shook hands and acknowledged they like each other, and it was upsetting that they had fallen out over something that happened.”

Gardner adds, “I hope students remember the tools that they learned so they can resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner on their own.” Homer hopes that students are building their vocabulary and awareness of their needs and wants and how to express them constructively.

“I wish I had been taught conflict resolution when I was a third grader,” Homer says.

For more information about the program or if someone is interested in being trained to teach the Peace Curriculum as part of the M.V. Mediation Youth Program, contact Sara Barnes at or call 508-693-2999.