Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Students take part in day-long conflict resolution, mentoring training

HURLEY - Around 650 students from Hurley, Ironwood and Bessemer schools took part in a day-long event held at the Hurley K-12 School on Tuesday.

Michael McGowan, President of McGowan and Associates, led many programs throughout the day, for students of all ages.

McGowan's training and consulting firm specializes in handling school, alcohol, drug, conflict resolution, workplace and family issues. He presents school assemblies every year, with each presentation being tailored by grade level and individual school needs.

Melissa Oja, seventh through 12th grade counselor at Hurley, she had attended a training in Mercer, Wis., in November and liked his presentation, so she later contacted him to bring him to Hurley.

With the junior high school students, one thing McGowan addressed was the disrespectfulness we see in many television shows.

"You see people being treated poorly in shows," McGowan told the students.

He said even though you may not notice it, when you watch television, you pick up the language. To demonstrate, he asked kids to finish the phrases from commercials for Farmers Insurance and Red Robin. Most sixth through eighth graders in the room were able to.

He reminded the students to stand up and say something when you see bullying or other negative behaviors happening.

"If in the hallway, something happens and you laugh, you're actually part of a bigger problem than the kids being mean," McGowan said. "It doesn't take much to be nice."

Between the junior high and high school afternoon session, McGowan told the Daily Globe he started presenting after he recognized that "unless you're in trouble with the law, there's no place to go to get long-term help."

He said teaching students to mentor one another helps with that. McGowan also said he's noticed similarities in many of the schools he's visited.

"What we're finding is that social skills development, or as I like to call it, job skills development, is lacking," he said.

Many of his school-based presentations focus on conflict resolution, leadership and problem-solving skills, to help bridge that gap.

Students in the high school group were asked why they want to be mentors, or why they feel mentors are important.

"It just helps them. It changes them," Tim Buerger said of the students he mentors in Bessemer. "They can look forward to going to school." Other students had similar feelings, as well.

The high school students also broke into two groups to discuss ways to improve upon or expand mentoring programs in the schools.

Oja said the overall student response to the presentations were positive.

"They all have said what a great message he had," she said near the end of the programs. "His humor was relatable to the kids."

Jamie Stiffarm, the counselor at A.D. Johnston High School in Bessemer, said McGowan's presentation was "absolutely wonderful." She said he showed kids it's OK to reach out for help if they need it and for other students to assist those who ask for help.

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