They seek truth. They seek justice. And some, seek power.
Their badges, clipboards and pursuit of fairness set them apart.
They are Gilbert’s Finley Farm Elementary School’s peer mediators.
They don’t take their duties of dissolving playground brawls lightly.
They apply for the position, attend three hours of training and dedicate one lunch a week to the group.
And for most — they have backgrounds in resolving conflicts.
“I have three siblings and they argue a lot, so I like helping them,” said 11-year-old Jessica Manzonie. “I like helping people, and I like helping people solve their problems.”
Kendra Benedetti, the school’s social worker, trains roughly 60 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students annually to participate in the national program.
At least four peer mediators make their playground rounds every day at lunchtime.
Their clipboards hold a script that is strictly adhered to for solving minor disputes. They do not separate physical fights and several adult supervisors are still present.
“I tell them they can’t be little police officers,” Benedetti said. “I kind of turned it into customer service. They are there to help. They learn all these communication skills, problem-solving skills and how to get along. Sometimes I wonder how much it actually helps on the playground. (But) I’d like to think it helps and prevents things.”
The mediators never know when an intentional — or unintentional — action or comment could escalate to a fight.
Katherine Morosoff, 11, said most weeks the 15 minutes fly by with no action.
“We get bored when nobody’s fighting,” she said, “but it’s still a good thing.”
But one day last week wasn’t going to be one of those days.
Right before the bell rang ending the lunch period, two fifth-grade girls playing volleyball tripped — literally — into an altercation.
According to both of the students, one girl accidentally tripped her friend, whose reaction was to throw the volleyball at her head, which in turn caused an intentional tripping.
Before it got out of hand, one of the girls notified Katherine and triggered the peer mediation process.
Peer mediator rule No. 1: Agree to solve the problem; No. 2: No name calling or put downs; No. 3: Be as honest as you can; and No. 4: Do not interrupt.
The mediators listened to each girl explain her side of the story and asked both what they each wanted.
“We want to not be fighting anymore,” they responded in almost perfect unison.
“How do you expect to do it?” Katherine asked.
Jessica suggested that since the incident’s foundation was an accident, that an apology should have been issued and no one should have grown angry. They agreed and walked back into their classrooms. But to the peer mediators, saving a friendship is just another day to them. “It was pretty successful,” Katherine said.