LUTZ – Steinbrenner High School seniors Katya Brioni and Erica Maurino are part of a group of students trying to make a difference. According to them, they have no choice but to deal with uncomfortable realities of life, and sometimes get in the faces fellow students – but it’s all worth it.
They are part of the Steinbrenner Peacemakers, a peer mediation group that deals with almost every issue that makes their fellow students uncomfortable, especially when it comes to bullying.
It’s a simple program. Any student who feels uncomfortable can come to the Peacemakers, who set up a mediation session where they talk to both of the parties involved and try to work out a settlement.
It may all sound like a job for school guidance counselors, but the Peacemakers say that sometimes it is easier to have a student involved instead of an authority figure. It has been a success at Steinbrenner.
“We help kids who deal with things like bullies or any other issues that bother them,” Brioni said. “You hear about bullies on the news and, we don’t have much of it here at Steinbrenner, but it is everywhere.”
Maurino said that no problem at Steinbrenner is unique, but, at the same time, all problems are unique to the person dealing with them.
“We are really good students at Steinbrenner and we mostly stay out of trouble,” she said. “We wanted to be part of the Peacemakers and we want peace on our campus.”
There are 54 Peacemakers at Steinbrenner. They don’t handle issues that come from home; they let the school guidance counselors handle it.
If it involves an on-campus issue, the students who contact the Peacemakers fill out a form and the group decides on how to resolve the situation. Even if the person doing the bullying doesn’t want to participate, the Peacemakers say they know they are still making a difference.
“You know, sometimes it helps them to just get things off their chest,” Brioni said. “Sometimes they just need someone to talk to. If we find a problem, we just sit and talk it out.”
“It’s a change from what they are used to,” Maurino added. “High school is so different from where they are coming from. Bullying isn’t always physical. Some of the people who are supposed to be bullying don’t mean to be doing it. This is a chance to be open and talk about it.”
Maurino said she herself was a bully back in middle school.
“I grew up with a brother who was great, but when you have a big brother, you have to stand up for yourself,” she said. “I guess it rubbed off until I saw how it hurts people.”
Brioni said she has seen friendships develop between the adversaries and, if nothing more, at least nodding acquaintances.
“We don’t talk down to anyone, but I think they are comfortable talking with their peers,” she said. “That’s what the Peacemakers are all about.’’