“This program has been transformative to me”
How Mediation Services helped turn a troubled student into an achiever
It’s nearly impossible these days to avoid the growing tempest of disputes and disagreements around us. The discord is can be seen daily on TV, in workplaces, at stores, in our schools, and sometimes even in our own homes.
What if there was a way to de-escalate? To reason? To find common ground and harmony among divergent opinions?
At Mediation Services, we are an island of hope and peace amid the churning conflict. In one unlikely place in southwest Michigan, seeds of harmony are growing new opportunity for both the attendees and leaders of Allegan’s Alternative High School. Yelling is turning to compliments. Shoving is transforming into hugs.
Meet Kass. At 17, she grew up fighting. “I was bullied nearly my whole life,” says the blue-eyed high school junior. “I had to learn to protect myself.”
But today, Kass McElwee knows a better way. And so do the 100 or so other students at Allegan Alternative High School.
Through an innovative Restorative Justice program we launched earlier this year, the teens here learn to repair harm and focus on accountability over punishment.
The program is creating big changes – in the lives of school leaders and in kids like Kass.
With a trained Mediation Services facilitator, Jen, now part-time in the school, students say they’re being heard and helped like never before. Instead of raising fists, she’s helping them discuss how they felt during conflicts and how to change behaviors going forward.
And it’s working: for Kass, this new approach has meant the difference between a failing freshman year to one now filled with A’s and B’s. And it means she can do something she never dared to do before: dream about a future filled with opportunity and hope.
“I want to be a photographer after I graduate,” Kass says with a rare smile. “And I also want to get a degree in psychology as well.” For a girl who grew up in a fractured home, such dreams mean the path to a new life – one she can see now filled with peace and opportunity.
“This program has been transformative to me and to this school,” she says softly, but firmly. “I feel completely different from last year to this year. The only thing better would be for this program to be in all schools.”
Kass’s is but one life we are changing through our work at Mediation Services. Across Ottawa and Allegan Counties, we are helping thousands of others also uncover opportunity in the face of conflict, building bridges of conversation instead of destructive words and actions.
For 25 years, we’ve been transforming lives like Kass’s. In doing so, we are strengthening families, creating safer schools, and we are building stronger communities.
How will you join us in our next 25 years of bringing more peace and harmony to the students, families, neighbors, and employees who need us?