PEER HELPER PROGRAM
When young people have problems, they are far more likely to discuss them with their friends rather than their parents, teachers, ministers or other caregivers. Social media enables young people to share life-changing events with strangers without ever talking to someone within their own homes.
To equip young people to act as a resource to help other youth with the issues they face, the concept of “peer helping” was developed. Peer Helpers are students who are trained to recognize when their peers may have a problem, listen to fellow students confidentially and assist them with emotional, societal, or academic struggles.
A teacher or school counselor is trained in the certified National Association of Peer Program Professionals curriculum to be prepared to serve as a Peer Program Coordinator. The teacher/counselor Peer Program Coordinator in turn selects students to serve as Peer Helpers and trains them on the peer helping system. They learn a set of skills – attending, empathizing, summarizing, questioning, genuineness, assertiveness, confrontation, problem-solving, conflict resolution and confidentiality – that assist them in meeting the needs of their fellow students. In middle and high school, Peer Helpers are generally taught as a state accredited class; in intermediate and elementary school, Peer Helpers are generally led as a club.
As a part of their training, Peer Helpers agree to keep the issues other students share with them in strict confidence. However, if a student threatens to harm him or herself, exhibits psychotic behavior or reports abuse, the Peer Helper must involve their coordinator, a counselor or administrator immediately.
Peer Helpers not only assist classmates by listening empathetically, providing options for making healthy choices, becoming advocates, and helping them get involved in campus life. In the process of helping others improve their self-esteem, Peer Helpers can themselves become leaders and role models.