Drumroll please… Peer Educators is back at Lick-Wilmerding High School!
Since it ended in 2006 because of the schedule change, supporters of the Peer Educators program have fought hard to bring the class back into Lick-Wilmerding’s curriculum. After 5 years, the program was at last offered again in the 2011-2012 school year, but took a hiatus in the 2012-2013 school year when Lick Counselor and Peer Educators teacher, Erika Solis, went on sabbatical.
The Peer Educators program at Lick-Wilmerding has always been a fully credited and graded elective course offered to juniors and seniors. However, it used to be a larger program than it is now. Since Peer Educators is just starting up again this year, it has but nine students (six girls and three boys from the junior and senior classes). At this stage, Ms. Solis is working on rebuilding the program and says, “It’s great to see more participation.”
Peer Educators is like any other class at Lick; it meets every other day for the entire year. In the fall semester, peer educators identify and research topics related to adolescence and student life. They gain facilitation skills and design lessons, which they teach in the spring semester.
In the past, Peer Educators taught the lessons that they designed to freshman during Lick’s formerly scheduled “physical education” period. Every freshman was in a peer educators group and met once a week with two upperclassmen. Now, students in Peer Educators target sophomores and, starting next semester, will meet with them during advising. They aim to create a forum for sophomore advising groups to discuss issues that impact their lives, analyze their personal values and share different perspectives in a safe environment.
With the new peer educators format, there is not as much time for the peer educators to interact with the sophomores in their advising groups as the old peer educators had to interact with the freshman. Since the program is still in the experimental stage, they are working on methods to improve and engage the sophomores in the five sessions they will have this year.
The Peer Educators program is part of the Body Mind Education (BME) department, which replaced physical education with yoga, issues and choices and rock climbing, classes that are only offered to freshman. The Peer Educators program aims to be an extension of freshman year Issues and Choices and offers sophomores, juniors and seniors the opportunity to remain involved with Body Mind Education.
A crucial aspect of this class is that the students get to choose what they want to focus on for the year. Ms. Solis says that “the idea of Peer Educators is for students to identify and select topics that they feel are relevant to life at Lick-Wilmerding and to research those topics and explore and discuss them together.”
At the beginning of the year, Ms. Solis opens up the floor for students to pitch topics. Students rank which issues they personally care about and then offer presentations on a multitude of topics. After lengthy discussions and individual research, peer educators decide on the key topics which they will research further and for which they will create lesson plans. This year, the students in the Peer Educators class have chosen topics including body image, nutrition, drugs, alcohol, sex education, balancing priorities, coping with stress, relationships and peer pressure.
A key question the student educators had in mind while choosing their topics this year was “How might the sophomores react to this?”
Laura Creager ’02, who is now a science teacher in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, remembers her involvement in Peer Educators at Lick-Wilmerding. Creager was involved with Peer Educators in 2001 and 2002, the first year as a student and the second year as one of four teaching assistants. In total, she recalls about 25 people being involved in the program. Creager decided to get involved with Peer Educators because she had a positive experience with the program as a freshman.
Although the structure of Peer Educators has changed since 2002, many of the issues that are being discussed now are consistent with the ones Creager researched during her time at Lick-Wilmerding, which included mental health, drugs and alcohol abuse, and peer pressure.
Creager enjoyed her experience in Peer Educators and learned so much that she even wrote part of her college essay about her work in the program.
“Peer Educators was a good way to learn about very important issues in a non-threatening space for both the peer educators and the freshman,” Creager says. “For me, the Peer Educators program was a good opportunity to explore teaching through producing and conducting lessons.”
In the past, the program was generally positively received. Creager recounts, “The freshman thought it was a cool opportunity to get to know upperclassmen they might not know otherwise. It wasn’t just about learning about the facts of these issues, but was also about how to deal with sticky situations.”
Ms. Solis hopes to extend and expand on this previous program. In the revival of the Peer Educators program, students will continue to learn about identifying and selecting topics relevant to life at Lick-Wilmerding.
Ms. Solis hopes that the students in her class “get a chance to develop leadership skills so they learn about facilitation, and reflect about teaching and learning.” She also hopes that “the peer educators will create a community within the classroom so they can have candid discussions about some difficult topics.”
Maurine Poppers, the Director of Counseling at Lick-Wilmerding, is also involved with the Peer Educators program. She acts as a co-teacher, but more importantly, she is stepping in as tenth student. Because many activities are done in pairs and the class only has nine students, she is often a teaching partner to one of them.
Students currently in the class think fondly of the program and hope for it to expand. Kiran Sridhar ’15 signed up for the class because he “thought it would be good to have students teaching other students on difficult topics.” He says that “It makes it more feasible to have open discourse because people are more comfortable sharing about different topics with other students.”
On the changes applied to Peer Educators this year, he continues, “It’s still going to definitely have this component of being student run and it’s still going to be confidential, but we’re also working hard to develop lesson plans which can include everyone and which everyone can benefit from.”