Be a mentor in the classroom and playground

Imagine yourself in a classroom or on the playground when an argument between two students breaks out. Would you know what to do? Would the students and their peers?

With the Mediator Mentors project, Fresno State students, in addition to students in elementary and middle schools, receive communication and conflict-resolution training through restorative justice practices from professionals.

“We emphasize on listening skills and emotional literacy,” said Dr. Negin Tahvildary, director of the project.

The program, established in 1998 by Dr. Pamela Lane-Garon, was housed in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. It was under the direction of Karen DeVoogd until earlier this year.

As of January, with continued efforts from Dr. Andrew Fiala, philosophy department chair, and Tahvildary, it became part of the peace and conflict studies in the department of philosophy.

“With support from the College of Arts and Humanities, especially Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, the program is now open to all majors as an internship or as a class project in PAX 100 [Peace and Conflict],” said Tahvildary, who also teaches the class.

Tahvildary said the main goals are to enhance the students’ social and emotional development and to create a safe learning environment and a constructive conflict community.

Cassandra Padilla, a recent Fresno State philosophy graduate who minored in peace and conflict studies, said she learned so much from being involved in the program.

“It helped me cement my goal of becoming a teacher in hopes to foster more critical-thinking skills and awareness in youth,” Padilla said.

The program is implemented in 100 schools in more than eight districts in Fresno and its surrounding areas.

“The students and teachers receive about 12-15 hours of training,” Tahvildary said. “Karen DeVoogd and another professional from Fresno Unified Department of Prevention and Intervention will lead the trainings.”

Former mentor Meredith Navarro-McCullar, a recent Fresno State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies, said their role as a mentor is not to intervene immediately, but to step in only when the students need guidance.

“I was amazed at how quickly the students caught on,” McCullar said.

Padilla agreed and said she was constantly surprised by how mature some of the kids would act.

As a child of war, Tahvildary said she wants to see every and any child involved in conflict survive it – whether it be war, bullying, abuse, etc.

“After working for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, I came here and asked myself, ‘Now what can I do?’ and I think this program is the perfect way to give back.”

For more information about the program, contact Tahvildary at or visit the website:

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