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STAFF PHOTOS BY SUSAN USHEI
PEER HELPERS (clockwise from left) Kimberly Bowen, IjiVar Marlon- and Summer Todd think through a question posed by adviser Sue
Chapman as fellow advisor Robin Gaskins looks on.
PILOT PROJECT INVOLVES GRADE 4
Peer Helpers Lending Classmates
An Empathetic Ear At Union School
BY SUSAN USHER
Union Elementary School fourth
graders have a wider choice these
days of who to turn to when they
need to talk through a problem ?
peer helpers are on the job.
Having a trained peer helper to
turn to is good for students, said
Shanta Vaught, "because we're chil
dren and we understand how they
That's a big part of the job, the
peer helpers explained during one of
their weekly training sessions.
But being a peer helper also
means "being a good example, a
role model" for fellow students,
Krister* Ward su i d
And it means caring enough to let
someone solve his or her own prob
"If you see someone crying or
who is having a problem, you go to
them and offer to have a little talk,"
said LaVar Marlow. "Then you lis
ten, but you don't say too much."
It's important, she said, for peer
helpers not to tell someone what to
do, but to draw them out, help them
come up with possible answers and
look at what might happen if they
make each choice.
Having someone who will listen
is what a student may need most.
"Sometimes when you talk it out
and get it out of you, then you won't
be so sad," said Shanta.
One really important part of their
role, Kimberly Bowen said, is "to
not tell secrets, to keep confi
When a student shares informa
tion with a peer helper, it goes no
farther unless it is a situation where
someone might be in danger. Then
the peer helper shares the informa
tion only with the program's adult
advisors. Guidance Counselor Sue
Chapman and Chapter 1 reading
teacher Robin Gaskins.
Becoming one of The Caring Dol
phins, as the helpers have dubbed
their group, required an adult-size
The process began last spring,
when interested third graders ap
Why peer helpers?
"Because we're children and we
understand how they feel. "
? Shanta Vaught
plied. Each wrote a paragraph on be
ing a peer helper, and secured rec
ommendations from two teachers, a
part/it and a guidance counselor.
Tlljcy had to be willing to give up
rece.%R one afternoon each school
wee^t ands attend an overnight re
treat Pet? helpers also had to agree
l*?? ?? i r? lanutr t\f tka rtrnnrim
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which are based on the concept that
"helping is a good way to live."
"These students were selected
very carefully," said Chapman, who
established the program. "They're
not all academically gifted students.
We were looking for students who
were very mature, very committed
and who cared about their fellow
The Caring Dolphins will receive
30 to 40 hours of training this year
in topics such as communication and
conflict resolution. That schedule in
cludes weekly half-hour sessions
and an overnight retreat at the N.C.
Baptist Assembly Dec. 10 and 11,
when they will learn about peer me
diation. Mediation is an alternative
that allows students with differences
to resolve them through compro
mise, a process guided by specially
trained fellow students, rather than
going to the principal's office or
some other measure.
Every Thursday at 2 p.m., The
Caring Dolphins gather in Robin
Gaskins' modular classroom, filling
all available chairs and spilling over
onto the carpeted floor. The helpers
are Shanta Vaught, Lyn Loomis and
Amanda Lanier from Linda Inman's
class; Chris Rabon, Alex Moore and
Blaire Ansley from Susan Brown's
class; LaVar Marlow, Summer Todd
and Kimberly Bo wen from Deborah
Thorsen's class; Bradley Smith,
Kristen Ward and Jessica Schwab
from Selena Gore's class; and Fallon
Hewett, Christina Florentino and
Robert Morgan from Daphne Suggs'
During their first meetings, some
of the students were very shy, hesi
tant to express their feelings or opin
ions aloud in front of the group,
Five weeks into their training,
however, The Caring Dolphins are
beginning to speak up, share ideas,
and listen to one another with re
spect. They seem confident that
what they are doing is worthwhile,
benefitting fellow students and the
school at large.
"Without peer helpers, we would
have a little too much problems,"
Added Kristen, "Mrs. Chapman,
Mrs. Gaskins, Mrs. (Zelphia ) Gris
sett (the principal) and Mr. (Steve)
Martin (the assistant principal) can't
answer everybody's problems."
During this particular session
Union's peer helpers are learning
how to read and interpret facial ex
pressions so they can become better
"If I told you that I was having a
really great day, but 1 was sitting
here with a frown on my face,
would you believe me?" asks Chap
man, who is leading the training.
"No," the students agree.
As training progresses, The Car
ing Dolphins will begin keeping per
sonal journals, in which they log the
types of problems students share
with them and their feelings about
what they are doing.
"We're excited about this pro
gram," said Chapman. She and Gas
kins obtained support from a mini
grant from Brunswick Electric
Membership Corp. for materials and
a one-year, renewable $8,000 drug/
alcohol abuse prevention grant from
"We were going to do it whether
we got the $8,000 or not," said
Chapman. "We were just going to
take our materials and go with it."
The state money will provide ex
tras, such as the retreat and media
tion training, journals, The Caring
Dolphins T-shirts, additional re
sources and an end-of-the-year ap
preciation dinner for peer helpers
and their parents.
Union Elementary is the first
Brunswick County school to Chap
man's knowledge to apply the peer
helper concept, though all three
county high schools have trained
peer helpers or peer counselors. The
concept works the same at any grade
level, she said.
Their goal in creating the program
is to help reduce classroom disrup
"We're at a tii:sc in education
where we have to have students take
more responsibility for themselves,"
said Gaskins. "Teaching time is so
Added Chapman, "We don't have
very many discipline problems here
but we do have some, and anything
that can help the classroom teachers
focus on teaching we need. This pro
gram is already making a difference."
"My dream is to get this into all
fourth grades in the county next
year. I don't know if we could
rewrite the grant and get enough
money to do that or not, but that is
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ATLANTA BRAVES fans Robert Morgan and Chris Rabon check
out a facial expression exercise as Bradley Smith works in the
Children Can Make Plans
For Breakfast With Santa
It's the kind of treat youngsters
fantasize about ? chatting with Santa
Claus over the breakfast table.
It can be theirs Saturday, Dec. 11,
when the Shallotte Junior Woman's
Club offers its second annual Break
fast with Santa.
The breakfast will be held from
10 a.m. until noon in the fellowship
hall of Camp United Methodist
Church in Shallotte under the lead
ership of project chairman Kathy
Ross. Youngsters will enjoy hot pan
cakes and have their photographs
made with Santa Claus.
Cost is $5 per child. Adults can
eat for $2.50 each.
Half the proceeds raised will go
to the Brunswick Volunteer and In
formation Center, said Susan Gib
ble, clubwoman and a member of
the VIC Board of Directors.
The club is also requesting that
participants each bring a wrapped
present for a child age 18 or under.
wilh the appropriate age level, sex
and size indicated on the tag.
"VIC is trying to target the older
child this year, teenagers," said
Gibble. "They receive plenty of
clothes and other items for younger
children but have problems meeting
the needs of older children."
Gibble said last year the board re
ceived a thank-you letter from an
older student for an N.C. Festival By
the Sea sweatshirt donated by the
Greater Holden Beach Merchants
Association. "He said it was the first
piece of new clothing he had ever
The Breakfast with Santa project
was begun last year by a club mem
ber who saw a need for more local
Christmas activities for child-en,
Advance reservations are not
needed. Tickets are available from
any member of the Shallotte Junior
Woman's Club or at the door. Lynn
Carr is president of the club.
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