Members of the 2012-2013 RHS Peer Helpers are Madison Thompson, Kennedy Palmer, Morgan Willingham, Cai-Cai Smith and Victoria Jackson. Back row L to R: Isaac Fleming, Hunter Smith, Micah Malone, John Mark Sheffield, Ashley Figueroa, Hollee White and Casey Brandenburg.

Archived Story

Students become peer helpers

Published 6:06am Saturday, October 20, 2012

When a teenage girl is having a problem with another friend, more than likely, she’ll seek out another teenage girl to discuss it with.
Likewise, if a teenage boy needs advice, he’ll usually sit down with a buddy his age to talk it out instead of talking to a teacher or parent.
Knowing that teenagers most often seek out other teenagers to help them with relationship problems, conflicts, academic struggles and other issues, peer helper programs have become more and more prominent on high school campuses throughout the country.
This school year, Russellville High School added their own peer helper program that is offered as an actual class.
Patricia Cox, who serves as the teacher/advisor for the RHS Peer Helpers, said the class is a way to give students an opportunity to have access to a group of qualified students of different ages who are available for assistance in many different areas.
“We had a mentoring program in place at RHS that was an extracurricular activity and took care of some of these needs, but the state Department of Education will now offer a life skill credit if an actual peer helper course is offered,” Cox said.
“We thought it would be a beneficial course for our students so we began looking into adding the program to this year’s curriculum.”
Cox said in order to have the most qualified students as part of the program, administrators set up guidelines and qualifications that had to be met before a student could become a peer helper.
“We took teacher recommendations for the program, but we also had the school counselor give students a form to fill out saying which students they would feel comfortable going to with a problem,” Cox said.
“There are always good students that teachers think will be good leaders and helpers, but since the students would actually be the ones coming to the peer helpers for assistance, we wanted to get a feel for who the students trusted and felt comfortable with.”
Cox said after they complied a list of students from the 10th through the 12th grades that had been listed as being trustworthy, administrators then sent letters to those students inviting them to be part of the program and class.
“Out of the ones who responded, we then set up interviews,” Cox said. “The ones who met all the criteria were then added to the class and what we ended up with were 12 students who have great potential to make an impact at this school.”
Cox said in order to teach the peer helper course, she had to go through training and become a certified peer educator through the National Association of Peer Professionals.
She said she has taken cues from other teachers in the state who already have established peer helper programs and has high hopes for RHS’ program.
“We have a textbook for the class that teaches the students skills such as mentoring and tutoring,” Cox said. “We hope to keep expanding the program and add techniques to help with peer mediation and health education as well.”
Cox said the main benefits at this point in the beginning stages of the program are new student orientation and helping students struggling in different areas both personally and academically.
Casey Brandenburg, a sophomore member of the peer helpers, said she was already enjoying the class.
“I wanted to be a part of this class because helping people is something I think everyone should strive to do,” she said.
“In getting to know the other people in the class and seeing how they help others, I feel like I’ve learned more about myself and can better help others in the future.”
One of the activities the RHS Peer Helpers participated in was a new student pizza party at the beginning of the year that helped new students meet people and become more familiar with the school.
“I really enjoyed being able to help the new students feel more welcome here at RHS,” said Kennedy Palmer, a sophomore peer helper. “I know it can be scary and intimidating to be in a new place where you don’t know everyone.
“To me, that’s the greatest part about this class is being able to reach out and help others and learn how to be a better leader.”
The class has also gone to the elementary schools and talked to students there about bullying and the negative effects it can have.
“I feel like the class is already having an impact, even though it’s in the beginning stage,” said Micah Malone, a senior member of the class.
“There are many people who struggle every day, but now that we have this class, hopefully those people can come to one of us and find the help they need with their day-to-day problems.”

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