In the 1980s, violence among the United States' youth had reached epidemic proportions. Homicide was the third leading cause of death in children between the ages of five and fourteen. Sixty percent of all children reported knowing someone who had been a victim of violence. Much of the violence that affected the young was occurring at school. The traditional methods for dealing with violence in school are suspension, expulsion, and ultimately arrest and incarceration--all measures taken in response to the violence, all measures taken after the fact.
The Attorney General of Massachusetts has created a program with a different goal in mind--deterrence and intervention before the violence starts. Student Conflict Resolution Experts (SCORE) is a long-term, school-based program that provides students with mediation tools to resolve conflicts and deescalate situations before they can become violent.
Between 1989 and 1993, Massachusetts implemented the program in 20 schools and achieved excellent results. Over these four years, the program received 1291 referrals, initiated 1043 mediations, and agreement was reached 98 percent of the time. Also, the program has witnessed a 38 percent decrease in violent referrals and a 27 percent decrease in racial disputes. Clearly, the students are learning to mediate disputes and, more importantly, they are learning the tolerance to prevent them altogether.
In 1991, with the positive effect of SCORE's mediation in mind, the Attorney General created an adjunct program to SCORE, named Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) in response to recent racial unrest that had nearly closed a Boston area high school--a school that had not yet adopted SCORE. Based out of the Attorney General's Office, CIT maintains 75 trained crisis intervention volunteers as an on-call resource for the State's high schools. Typically dealing with issues of intolerance, a CIT intervention usually results in two things: a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the school's authorities adopting the SCORE program for long-term prevention.
Somerville High School's SCORE program, the "oldest" program in Massachusetts, provides a glimpse of the program's long-term effects on an individual school. For instance, Somerville credits the program for allowing them to avoid hiring a full-time security force, a common requirement for modern urban high schools. Also, the Juvenile Squad of the Somerville Police force attributes its "great rapport" with the kids directly to the program. While fights still occur occasionally (50 percent fewer since the program was adopted), administrators will often reduce the length of the offender's suspension if a resolution can be found by mediation.
The main challenge to the transferability of mediation in a public school setting lies in two areas. First, previous attempts at similar programs in other states ultimately failed because the mediators were teachers and the students often thought they were biased. To seek similar results elsewhere, student mediators must be given the training and authority. Second, each SCORE program requires a coordinator, a staff person to oversee training and facilitate mediation. The coordinator's salary is the primary cost of the program, and Boston pays it through funds raised from enforcing consumer protection laws.
Funded through the innovative use of legislation and relying on results from empowering young adults to reach compromise on their own, Boston's SCORE program has created a solution of intervention and mediation that enables students to return to the original purpose-learning.