Committee on Education and the Workforce
Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families
Congressional Field Hearing
Fourth Congressional District of Indiana
September 1, 1999

Testimony of:
Dr. Rex Bolinger, Principal
Angola High School
Angola, Indiana

Topic:
The Peer Mediation Program
Angola High School
Angola, Indiana

There are many issues that face high school students, educators, and communities throughout our nation. Change is a given factor in this age of information and technology growth. We have witnessed more change in business, industry, and education in the last five years than we ever before thought possible. Schools have had to address change to meet the needs of all learners in an effort to prepare them for a new lifelong learning process. However, at the foundation of any successful educational program must be a safe learning environment. While statistics indicate that schools are becoming safer places, never before have such devastating incidents of school violence been so prevalent in the media. This testimony will report on the efforts at Angola High School, Angola, Indiana to deal with change, to lessen student conflict, to help students resolve personal issues, and to provide students with strategies for successful conflict resolution throughout their lives.

It is important to note that the most comprehensive guide for high school change was published in 1996 by the Carnegie Foundation and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) entitled Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution. This report has been the blueprint and guiding set of principles for positive change at Angola High School. One of the six themes of this report is dedicated to "personalizing" the high school. It focuses upon why we must break down the anonymity of high schools and suggests directions for doing so. We are excited that NASSP will launch a major staff development initiative around this report to all interested high schools in our nation, as funding allows. It will be provided over the Internet in September of 1999. It is entitled Breaking Ranks – Revisited. Nationally know experts, teachers, and principals across the country will be able to converse, grow professionally, and make changes in high schools which reflect the principles of this report.

A part of the personalization efforts at Angola High School has included the development of a peer mediation program. It was developed during the 1996-1997 school year. The Angola High School Peer Mediation Program provides a non-threatening and confidential environment to solve conflicts. Each year a group of students receive training in the process and serve as mediators to help other students resolve personal conflict. Student mediators work closely with counselors and a social worker to resolve a variety of disputes.

Everyone experiences conflict at times. The conflict may involve rumors, harsh words, or a physical confrontation. Unresolved conflict often results in disruptive behavior that interferes with the daily learning process. Mediation is a process in which two or more persons who are experiencing conflict are brought together to consider issues, to build mutual understanding, and to develop agreements they believe will resolve the conflict. This process is guided by one or more skilled, neutral persons who serve as mediators. Any student may request mediation or may be referred by faculty, administrators, or parents. All parties involved must be willing to solve the problem and must agree to maintain confidentiality. Mediators remain neutral throughout the process and guide the disputants toward a peaceful and successful resolution. Once an agreement is reached, a written contract is signed by disputants and mediators. Mediation recognizes that the conflict belongs to the disputants as does the responsibility for resolving it. Mediators do not offer advice or solutions to the disputants.

Angola High School statistics regarding this program are encouraging. With an enrollment of 850 students in grades nine through twelve, AHS may be considered a medium size high school in Indiana. In 1997, five mediations were held. In the 1997-1998 school year there were twenty held; and, in the 1998-1999 there were thirty-one mediation sessions conducted. These numbers correspond to ten students the first year, forty-seven the second year and seventy-one the third year who participated. The increases in numbers do not necessarily reflect more problems, but rather the understanding of students that mediation is a positive means to resolve conflict. Of the fifty-six mediation sessions held, only one has resulted in a non-agreement. It was simply referred to administrators for resolution. Very few agreements have needed further remediation.

During the past three years of peer mediation at Angola High School, significant improvements have been measured in suspension assignments (both in-school and out-of-school), expulsion rates, attendance rates, graduation rates, and drop-out rates. These improvements cannot be linked totally to the peer mediation program. Many other changes have occurred. However, it is important to note the connection between an increase in students going through mediation and a decrease in conflict incidents that might have resulted in suspensions or expulsions.

(Note the graphs presented during testimony)

Angola High School takes pride in recent accomplishments and recognitions. The school was named an Indiana Blue Ribbon High School for 1997-1999. Twice in the last three years, AHS has been recognized as Indiana’s Outstanding Successful High School by the Indiana Association of Teacher Educators and the Indiana Colleges of Teacher Education. Last spring, Angola High School was one of twelve high schools in the nation cited by the University of Minnesota as a model school-to-work site that includes all students in such opportunities. Currently, the school is being considered by the U.S. Department of Education for recognition as a New American High School.

While we are proud of our efforts, we realize growth is a constant on-going process. We deal with problems and issues, as every school must. We are committed to comparing ourselves with where we were in the past and where we are today. Our efforts have followed the blueprint of Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution and we recommend this guiding set of principles to all high schools. We may be reached at our web site (www.msdsteuben.k12.in.us/ahs/ahs.htm) for further review or for personal contact.

 

 

Biographical Information about Dr. Rex Bolinger:

Dr. Bolinger has been in education for the past twenty-six years. Twenty of those years have been in school administration. He served as a math teacher and later a principal at Eastside High School in Butler, Indiana. He has served as principal of Angola High School in Angola, Indiana since 1987. Rex was named Indiana’s Principal of the Year in 1997. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Alliance of High Schools, a division of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. He is a member of several professional organizations and has given numerous workshops in several states on high school restructuring and staff development.

Dr. Bolinger received a Bachelors Degree from Ball State University, a Masters Degree from Purdue University, and a Doctorate in Education from Ball State University.