Extinguishing conflicts before they start

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:47 p.m.
Students at Eastside High School know him as "Mr. P." But, more importantly, they also know he cares.
Greg "Mr. P." Pelham walks the halls of Eastside ''putting out fires'' before they get started because he has a relationship with the students that discourages them from misbehaving most of the time.
"The students know that I really care about them, and I care about what happens to them," said Pelham, Eastside's diversion specialist, who is responsible for resolving conflicts at the school.
"That's the biggest thing I give them, is that I care," Pelham said.
Pelham's job at Eastside is to resolve conflicts between students, and sometimes between students and teachers.
He said conflicts between students are mediated by two to three student mediators who are trained to handle conflict resolutions. He said the conflicting parties present their cases to the mediators in front of him. His job is to supervise the process.
"I will put my two cents in any time I feel like it, but I let the peer mediators handle it for the most part," said Pelham, who also is the pastor of United Missionary Baptist Church in Reddick. "We try to work toward a positive solution to the problem. The mediator's job is to make sure conflicting parties abide by the governing rules. I'm just here to support the process," he said.
The school's principal, Jeff Charbonnet, feels Pelham is an asset to the school.
"Mr. P. plays an invaluable role at Eastside High School," said Charbonnet. "He does a wonderful job training and dealing with peer mediation. Problems that could escalate into something big are cut off at the core because of Mr. P and his mediators.
"Mr. P. is very much an integral part of student services here at Eastside,'' Charbonnet said. ''The services he provide is a critical part of what we do here."
Pelham oversees 100 to 125 mediations per school year, with the most cases involving boyfriend/girlfriend issues, stealing, and he say/she say incidences.
However, Pelham said that despite the reputation Eastside might have in the community, students at the school are probably the best behaved in Alachua County.
"I think the community, sometimes because of a lack of information, think we are the worst behaving school in the county," Pelham said. "But if they check the numbers, we're probably the best behaved school. We have fights, but our mediation program keeps fighting and aggressive behavior to a minimum."
Pelham said the hardest part of his job is witnessing some of the situations students have to deal with.
"I often wonder how they are able to maintain under the conditions some of them live in," Pelham said while tearing up a little bit. "I'm dealing with suicide, teen pregnancy, spirituality, and parent/child conflict issues," Pelham said.
He told a story about a young man who wanted to commit suicide. He said the young man's mother contacted him because the young man knew Pelham cared about him.
"When I got to the house, he was standing on the table with an extension chord around his neck," Pelham said. "I talked him down, and he said he told his mother to call me because he knew I cared."
Pelham said God has blessed him with the ability to communicate with today's youth in their own vernacular.
"Sometimes, I have to drop to their level, and sometimes I have to bring them up to my level. Whatever the case, I can communicate with all of them effectively," he said.
Pelham said he wants students to know that he is for real with them.
"I just want them to know that they can trust me," said Pelham, who also is the voice of the Mighty Rams football team when they play home games at Citizens Field. "That's the big thing with young people. They need to know they can trust you. Being able to communicate with them is the key."

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