UpSide413’s Dispute Resolution Center’s Kayla Allen, Connie Bergs, and Andrea Sholler were featured by the City of Pittsfield as an ARPA recipient. Read the full story here. 

Disputes in middle and high schools have intensified since schools reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic. “After COVID, we saw an increase in the number of school referrals right off the bat. Simple communication between students became challenging, and small conflicts escalated rapidly,” said Kayla Allen, program director of the UpSide413’s Dispute Resolution Center (DRC).

The DRC, which mediates various disputes, including landlord/tenant and workplace issues, has resolved over fifteen thousand disputes since its establishment. About a quarter of these involve Pittsfield Public Schools (PPS). The DRC’s mission is to promote household and community stability, expanding its programming to address community-based disputes.

In 2016, the DRC started mediating parent-teacher disputes at Reid Middle School and soon included student-student and student-teacher conflicts. The program now serves multiple schools in the area. “Before COVID, students would recognize what went wrong and agree to a resolution. It became the exact opposite after COVID,” said Andrea Sholler, coordinator of court-involved and community mediation.

Students’ home environments and increased reliance on social media have exacerbated conflicts. “Some students got into trouble because they couldn’t sleep at home due to their parents fighting,” said Connie Bergs, school and family mediation coordinator. The mediation process is non-judgmental and voluntary, helping students understand and resolve their issues.

The DRC faced resource challenges due to the increased demand for its services. They secured a $240,000 grant from the City of Pittsfield through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to expand mediation services. This funding allows the DRC to offer conflict coaching and restorative circle work, addressing issues before they escalate.

“I’m proud of how open and honest the participants are, especially the students. When they leave mediation, I see them communicating more effectively.” — Kayla Allen

Social media has made conflicts more intense. “Before social media, time would go by before you saw someone again, allowing emotions to settle. With social media, things escalate rapidly,” said Allen. The DRC observed that some students had never met their classmates face-to-face, making conflicts more intractable.

Despite these challenges, the mediation process has been effective. “I’m proud of how open and honest the participants are, especially the students. When they leave mediation, I see them communicating more effectively,” said Allen. The ARPA funding has enabled the DRC to handle more cases and expand into additional schools, fostering a positive environment and supporting community stability.

The City of Pittsfield’s support extends beyond funding, providing valuable networking and collaboration opportunities. “Connections, connections, connections. And we’re collaborating with other organizations. I love it,” said Bergs. The DRC’s expanded mediation services are making a significant impact on conflict resolution within Pittsfield schools, essential for positive youth development and community stability.