Partnering with Faith and Community-Based Organizations to Promote Peer Mediation and SEL Skills

Guest Blogger: Robert E. Kelly, Director of CSEL and SEL4OH Leadership Team Member

About our Center

The Center for Social-Emotional Learning (CSEL) was founded in 2014 in the Cincinnati area by Louise Gomer Bangel, who previously co-founded the Center for Peace Education (1979-2009).  CSEL focuses on teaching SEL skills and providing interactive experiences for students and adults. We also train students in grades 4-12 to be peer mediators, using the Ohio BEST Practices program, People Against Violent Environments.

My Journey

After 2-1/2 years of law school in the early 1970s, I decided to focus on education and my first course was a National Science Foundation (NSF) training program called Intermediate Science Curriculum Study (ISCS).  I was hooked by this interactive lab program, and that school year I taught ISCS to 8th graders, and the following year I became principal of a grades 1-8 school.  I continued my studies into brain-based learning and was accepted to the NSF training program to become a consultant. Two years later I founded St. Peter’s Montessori Preschool, which still operates 46 years later. My 38 years as a principal in private and public schools in Ohio included many positive learning experiences, curricular innovations, and relationships with students, staff and parents, including attending dozens of weddings of former students and children of former students. I feel privileged to have witnessed the personal and academic growth of thousands of students in five schools. Among all the changes and progress of the last 49 years in education, one thing remains true: students thrive when their social and emotional skills are nurtured in supportive school environments. My “retirement” as a principal in 2011 allowed me to take on the CSEL Executive Director role and continue my work to give students every tool and skill possible for a successful life.

Our Current Community-based Peer Mediation Work

This summer, CSEL conducted peer mediation training for Cincinnati-area community, Lincoln Heights, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in partnership with a consortium of three local Episcopalian Churches—Ascension and Holy Trinity, Christ Church Glendale, and St. Simon of Cyrene—along with community organizations St. Monica Community Center/Community of the Transfiguration and The Heights Movement.

The local organizations requested that CSEL train students and adults in peer mediation skills in order to be group leaders at a Peace Camp this past summer for middle schoolers from the Lincoln Heights community. Facilitators Cheryl Edmondson, Amber Harris-Reed and I conducted the training for seven group leaders and then 33 middle schoolers in July at Christ Church Glendale.

Our Peer Mediation Model

The peer mediation trainings were based on People Against Violent Environments (PAVE), a program I initiated while serving as principal in at Mt. Healthy City Schools, also in the Cincinnati area, from 1995 to 2012.  PAVE training provides interactive experiences in effective listening and communication, perceptions and feelings, cooperation, and a five-step conflict resolution process. The final activity has pairs of students practice mediating a variety of scenarios related to what they may encounter.  I’m proud to say PAVE was the recipient of two Ohio BEST PRACTICES AWARDS, the Ohio School Conflict Management Award, and the Nestle’ Foundation’s Very Best in Teaching Award.

The adult and high school leaders participated in mediation training and group leadership in order to prepare themselves to be group leaders during the five-day peace camp with the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. On the third day, they worked with my co-facilitator and me to plan the key activities for the camp from the many activities that they experienced. The Peace Camp was a challenge for many students due to their unfamiliarity with many of the strategies. However, the most dramatic aspect of the camp was the student leaders that emerged in each group. One eighth grader, in particular, demonstrated leadership in focusing the entire group on activities.  When I said goodbye to him, he told me that I should have him serve as a group leader next summer—and, I agree, because he was as effective as some adults.

Outcomes to Celebrate

Those weeks, which included ten hours of interactive training, yielded positive results:


Partnership at the Heart of Progress

I found this training particularly moving because the representatives from the Churches and Lincoln Heights community groups are among the most generous and dedicated people in the Cincinnati area. They provided a perfect camp location at Christ Church Glendale, organized the lunches and other activities at the Peace Camp, as well as being positive role models and leaders. Numerous meetings and emails involving a dozen or more people over three and a half months resulted in a well-organized two weeks.

CSEL’s Ongoing Work in Cincinnati Area Schools

In addition to the peer mediation program that CSEL offers, our primary work is to facilitate SEL classes in the Cincinnati area. Over the past seven years, we have worked with over 5500 students and 295 classrooms in 16 schools and other programs.  Besides the annual Mental Health Prevention Funding and individual donations, I wrote a two-year Educational Success Grant proposal that was funded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation for CSEL to work at Mt. Healthy South Elementary. Along with conducting weekly social and emotional learning classes each semester, CSEL facilitators are also focusing on individual and small groups of students, each student/group is mentored by a facilitator twice each week while they are in regular classes, so that social and emotional learning skills are being supported in academic class settings.  The key skills we cover are Affirmation, Communication, Cooperation, Bias Awareness/Appreciation of Differences and Conflict Resolution. Contact CSEL if you’d like to learn more about the organization or partner with us to bring our programs to your schools.