School counselor's legacy is peace and peer mediation


September 25, 2002|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AS A counselor at Atholton High School and later at Hammond Middle School, Charlotte Saji touched the lives of hundreds of students. But as a pioneer of peer mediation in the Howard County school system, she left a legacy of peace that continues to influence countless lives.

Saji, who lived in Silver Spring with her husband, Benjamin Saji, died of breast cancer in July at age 62.

In the early 1990s, Saji contacted peace activist Emma Byrne, a member of Community Building Howard County, to speak at a forum on world peace at Atholton High School. After the forum, students were motivated to become actively involved in promoting peace.

"Out of that, started peer mediation at all the high schools," Byrne said.

Peer mediation is a model for conflict resolution that teaches students to work out their problems by talking instead of fighting. Nearly 400 students are trained to serve as peer mediators in Howard County schools.

Lisa Boarman, facilitator of counseling for the school system, says that some form of peer mediation now exists at all county schools. She credits Saji with introducing school counselors to the concept of peer mediation and finding the resources to make the program work.

"Charlotte was always a person who was ahead of her time," Boarman said. "She was always on the cutting edge of new counseling techniques. She really cared about kids and that was the bottom line with her."

Students may choose to have a dispute mediated or can be referred to mediation by school administrators. Boarman said that peer mediation has reduced fights and suspensions in county schools. The program has evolved to address issues of bullying, as well as conflict.

Atholton High School counselor Ingrid Morton said the program benefits students by resolving problems before the contenders come to blows. And students gain invaluable skills through their training and mediation experience.

"The residual effects are felt beyond the immediate results. They carry these skills with them as they graduate and move into adulthood," Morton said. "It's a really good preparation for life."

Walk for a cure

On Saturday, a team from the villages of River Hill and Wilde Lake will participate in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's "Walk to Cure Diabetes" at Centennial Park.

The RiverWilde team's goal is to build community between the two villages while raising funds for a worthy cause.

River Hill village board members Theresa Pines and Mohammad Saleem and Wilde Lake village board members John Hannay and Philip Kirsch attended kick-off meetings for the event.

Susan Smith, the River Hill village manager, said the team hopes to raise $1,000 for the charity.

Members of the RiverWilde team will be asked to collect contributions before walking once around Centennial Lake to support research to find a cure for the disease. Registration for the walk will start at 8 a.m.; the walk is to begin at 9 a.m.

Donations for the walk can dropped off at the Bagel Bin in River Hill or mailed to JDRF Walk, River Hill Community Association, 6020 Daybreak Circle, Clarksville 21029.

Information: Bernice Kish, Wilde Lake village manager, 410-730-3987, or Susan Smith, 410-531-1749.

Eagle Scout honored

Christopher Stephenson was honored at a ceremony Sept. 14 at First Baptist Church of Guilford for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.

Scouts must complete requirements that demonstrate knowledge, citizenship, leadership, service and outdoor skills to achieve the Boy Scouts' highest rank.

Christopher designed a walking tour in Baltimore that honors the city's rich African-American heritage by visiting 18 historical sites. The 10-mile trail begins at Druid Hill Park and ends at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Christopher and other Scouts also cleaned up one of the sites on the tour.

Christopher is the son of Brian and Jocelyn Stephenson of River Hill. He graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville and attends Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

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