By Miye Sugino
“A bubble.” “Privileged.” “Grades.” Whether accurate or not, most students would have little trouble making the connection: “Ah. LCHS.” But what they don’t talk about is that if they went to the bathroom during class, they would find students sobbing. And too many times, it seemed like no one heard them.
Last year, under the initiative of graduate Nolan Sheow, the Peer Support class was approved by the Governing Board. Sheow was passionate about peers–who could be, in some aspects, more capable and understanding–helping other peers. In his senior year, he conducted an independent project to research peer support programs and advocate their need at LCHS. At the end of the semester, he presented his project to three faculty members. He asked the right people; they all shared an interest and background in student mental health.
“Let’s do it,” they said.
One of these teachers was Mrs. Pelletier, who was involved in an intervention program for students failing five or more classes at her previous school. It would be so easy to pass them off as hopeless. But not for her. She discovered that these students didn’t lack skill. They were carrying an overwhelming weight of emotional stress that crippled their academic performance, so she worked with them to overcome it. She and Mrs. Zooi now teach Peer Support.
What kind of environment do Peer Supporters want to create at LCHS?
“A more empathetic one, I’d say, if I had to choose one right word,” Mrs. Pelletier said, after carefully deliberating. “We are so focused on ourselves and how the world and other people around us affect us. And that’s understandable. But we want to focus a little bit more on other people, on how our world is affecting others, so we can help make it better…and perhaps make the environment a little less stressful,” she said.
The Peer Support class certainly reflects this environment. On the last day of the week, the sound of boiling water, the aroma of hot chocolate, and the sound of shuffling feet as students decide whether they want cinnamon or earl grey tea fill the room. It’s Friday check-ins. As everyone gathers in a circle, with warm mugs cupped in their hands, each person dumps out what they’re going through: the good and the bad.
“I want you to see each other [beyond] the surface level–more than, ‘Oh yeah, I have period three with that person.’ I want you to see each other as humans with layers and thus understand each other and yourselves better,” Mrs. Pelletier explained. “By the end of the school year, you’ll know everyone really well,” she joked. “Maybe even too well.”
The course flows from theoretical learning to hands-on experience. Students first address questions like “Where does morality come from?” and “How does one work towards cultural competence?” Peer Supporters then study the psychology behind subjects like implicit bias and decision-making. Through understanding themselves, Peer Supporters learn to understand others. To apply this understanding to concrete skills, Peer Supporters do what their name suggests: support their peers. Students can meet with a Peer Supporter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Peer Supporter will work to make them feel heard, guide them to understand themselves better, and equip them with skills to resolve conflict and make better decisions.
Already, Peer Supporters are making a difference. Last year, the Peer Supporters discovered there were times when students experienced an “I just can’t handle this” amount of stress. The Peer Supporters led Socratic seminars with LCHS teachers–both talked, and both listened. Teachers explained their teaching methods, students voiced their stress, and together, they discussed how they could show more care.
As Mrs. Pelletier said, “They saw each other as more than just teachers and students, but as human beings. It was amazing.”