Often teachers and school administrators choose suspension as a means of solving student disputes. But to the administrators, faculty and students of Calvin Coolidge High School, the solution is not suspension, it is SHARP, Students Helping with Alternative Resolutions Program.
Last year, Coolidge High School began the program designed to allow students to sit down with their peers to settle their disagreements.
Joseph Kelliebrew, SHARP coordinator, said the program is an outgrowth of the Center For Dispute Settlement, a private, nonprofit agency in downtown Washington where adults take their grievances in situations that are not police matters, such as a neighbor's barking dog or loud music. The parties involved go to the center in hopes of reaching an agreement with the help of trained mediators.
Kelliebrew said, "If you do this downtown with adults, why not translate it to the school system?"
When there is a disagreement between Coolidge students, students or teachers act as mediators. There are approximately 18 student mediators and five teacher mediators who receive 12 hours of training that includes lectures and role-playing exercises.
Kelliebrew said mediation is decided upon either through the suggestion of a school official or at the students' request. He said as the program progressed, students began to ask if they could get into the program to try to resolve disputes. At the close of each mediation session, a contract is drawn which all parties involved are required to sign. If necessary, follow-up mediation sessions are held between disputing parties until the problem is resolved.
Coolidge Principal Jennifer J. Gibbs said her school "most definitely needed alternative programs. I think all high schools should implement this program because it provides an alternative to suspension. Through the coordination of Mr. Kelliebrew, the program has been very successful."
SHARP officials say the program is helping reduce the number of suspensions. Overall suspensions have been reduced 26 percent and fight-related suspensions have been decreased 75 percent since the program began.
The program is also expanding, with the Duke Ellington School of Fine Arts implementing it this year.
Student mediators agree that SHARP benefits them as well as those whose disputes are mediated. Joe Watkins III, a senior in his second year as a mediator said the program has allowed him to help his peers.
"I think it would be good for all students to participate in," Watkins said. He added that a student learns nothing through suspension because the conflict remains unresolved.
Watkins' mother, Brenda, described the program as a "positive disciplinary action." She said she believes the success of the program is due in part to the fact that students are more likely to accept the suggestions of their peers.