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Spotlight: Peer Helpers unite campus through care, support

posted Apr 20, 2016, 7:50 AM by Kristin Hernandez   [ updated Sep 20, 2016, 11:56 AM ]
Peer Helpers lead Cougars United activities.
You can’t lead anyone further than you have gone yourself.

 –GHHS Peer Helpers, motto


The Granite Hills Peer Helpers seek to promote an environment of unity and support at Granite Hills High School. This group of 14 students facilitates one-on-one peer support, conflict resolution assistance, and interactive group events. The “Peers”, led by teachers Rosallyn Celle, Ryan Smallwood and Daisy Vargas, meet regularly to learn important communication skills, plan events and support one another in their efforts to support their campus.


“There is always someone who can relate to you and we’re trying to bring the campus together and make everyone feel like they are not alone,” Shea Meyers, junior, said.


 “We’re a group of people that they barely know, but we still care a lot and we get to show that to them, Kalyn Sanders, junior, added.


The program was developed in connection with the Peer Helper program at Apple Valley High School. The students and staff involved at each campus train together in the fall and support each other in times of crisis. Each of the Peer Helpers was selected through an extensive application process, which included an essay, letters of recommendation and an interview. Once selected, the group completed a three-day training to learn active listening skills and group facilitation skills, as well as the importance of confidentiality and the necessity to report any potential threats to a student’s safety. The group also signs a contract, pledging to act with integrity and be an example to 

their peers.


Perhaps the GHHS group’s most impactful event is Cougars United: an event that utilizes icebreaker activities and student-led discussions to foster unity among peers.  The event takes place four times a year and lasts for the majority of the school day. Typically, about 60 students and eight teachers attend each event.


A Peer Helper leads a group discussion at Granite Hills High School's Cougars United event.
One icebreaker activity is “The Label Game”, in which each participant is given a label to wear on his or her back. Participants try to guess what their label says based on the insults or compliments they receive from their peers. “Right here it’s a game, but out there on campus it’s real,” Karina Rodriguez, junior, said.


“Kids go in there closed off...They walk in there with negative energy and at the end they have positive energy,” Dallas Teran, senior, said. “And you can see that out on the campus.”


“I’ll be walking and someone that was in my group before will say hi and run up and hug me and we’ll have a conversation,” Courtney Duarte, senior added. “It’s nice to see that even though time passes, our effect hasn’t changed.”


In addition to Cougars United, the Peers also meet with students one-on-one to provide support and assist in conflict management. “We never give advice or anything. We want them to solve their own solution,” Karina Rodriguez said. “We’re like their mirror for them to see their reflection and for them to open up to themselves and I think it’s amazing.”


The group has also had an impact on the teachers and staff who have participated in Peer Helper-led events, such as Cougars United.  “It helps build a better relationship in the classroom between the teachers and the students,” Elizabeth Rodriguez, senior, said. “They [Students] start to realize ‘my teacher is human too. She goes through rough times too’.”


Smallwood, teacher and Peer Helper advisor, said that Peer Helpers are encouraged to go beyond a simple greeting of “How are you today?” and to ask, “What is making it good?” or “What is making it bad?” He said that this question has made him a better teacher. “I’ve always cared for my students, but it’s made me a much better teacher in the last two years doing this program just knowing where they are coming from,” he said. “Not just my peer students, but with other classes…I see my students as human beings, they get to see me as a human being.”


“A lot of stuff has changed for me,” Sanders said. “I see people in a different perspective…this group right here has taught me how I can trust people. It’s really an amazing class.”


“It has helped me open up to this group, but not only to this group, to anyone in general,” Karissa Gutierez, junior, added.


“We’re like brothers and sisters, we’re family,” Nathan Mora, senior, said.