films that make a difference
Eight year old Jordan’s big ‘Dumbo’ ears make him different to his mates, giving them an obvious nickname to taunt him with. Jordan is often alone in the playground, running around the periphery of games, being told he can’t play, being pushed from one side of the playground to the other. “Everytime I’m being bullied, I look up at the sky and just say in my head, ‘I wish I wish there were no bullies around, not ever’.”
For another of our characters, eight year old Stephanie, bullying has been so bad that she’s even thought about killing herself. This school is not unusual, the playground is just like every other primary school in the UK, the jealousies, rivalries and petty squabbles that play out during playtime are mirrored in every schoolyard. What’s different about Heatherbrook is that the headteacher is trying a radical new approach to solving the problem of bullying; two experts are coming into the school to select and train a team of “peer mediators”. Once on the job these pint-sized peacekeepers will be on duty every break and lunchtime to try to defuse minor disputes before they escalate into something far worse. As Stephanie’s friend, Nikkita puts it, “I think it’s a great idea, kids will be much better at sorting out problems than the teachers. Grown-ups don’t really understand bullying cos most grown-ups were probably never bullied when they were little.” Nikkita was bullied for six months by another girl - Jade and her posse. Now they’re friends, but they still fall in and out with each other and call each other names. For Nikkita, mediation is offering a much needed way to finally help her and her friends get along.
This film, shot very much from the children’s point of view, follows Jordan, Nikkita, Stephanie and their friends, as they are introduced to the idea of mediation, and apply to be trained as peer mediators. After formal interviews they face a Pop Idol style “cut day” with only the very best going through to training. But it is only once the training is complete, that the children face the real test; can the pint-sized peacekeepers really beat the bullies? Jordan and Stephanie make it as mediators and under the guidance of Meg and Jay, the trainers from CRISP (Conflict Resolution in Schools Programme), they learn ground rules, how to listen, how not to judge or take sides and how to think on their feet and ultimately how to get the parties to find their own solution. Children who fall out in the playground choose to go to a mediation session. In their first real mediation Jordan and Stephanie have to help Reece and Joe. Reece says Joe kicked him in the face and he is crying in pain. Reece starts by explaining ‘I was chasing a butterfly when Joe kicked me in the face.’ Joe replies ‘I didn’t, you liar’. By using careful words and phrases Jordan and Stephanie are able to help these two boys find their common ground. Joe starts by saying ‘I never say sorry’, but eventually the boys agree to ‘Shake hands. Then say sorry’. They both walk off happy. And Jordan and Stephanie breathe a sigh of relief.
The scheme has greatly improved the relations of many children in the school. After learning from the mediations they have been to, other classmates try some of the techniques themselves in their fall outs. The children learn that there are other ways of settling disputes other than going to war. In the short day at school it makes all the difference. Studies have proved that Peer mediation can cut bullying by up to two thirds, but sadly the government has refused to fund peer mediation training. With no more money in the pipeline Jordan and Stephanie could be two of the last pint-sized peacekeepers in Leicester. “I think how it reunites people is kinda magical, because it puts the kindness back into the people.” says Jordan