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Peer Helpers Are There When
Fellow Students Need To Talk
BY SUSAN USHER
When you need someone to talk to, where do
you turn? For an increasing number of
Brunswick County High School students the
answer may be a fellow student.
Not just any student, not their best friend, but a peer
helper with special skills.
"They arc not counselors, they are listeners," says
Judy Harris, a guidance counselor at West Brunswick
High School. "They were trained to be good listeners."
North Brunswick High School in Lcland started the
peer helper program on a pilot basis last year. The re
sults were encouraging and the program expanded this
fall to all three high schools. Selected students complet
ed a 20-hour workshop shortly after the start of school
and arc on the job.
Peer helpers give up one class period a day for the
entire school year to be available to fellow students,
working out of a room in the guidance area.
"It's a big responsibility, period," said Ms. Harris.
Recently, one hour of class credit was approved for
program participants, reflecting what they already
knew: while helping fellow students, peer helpers are
themselves learning and maturing.
"It made me feel good about myself that I could
help my friends," said Jennifer Home of Ocean Isle.
"It's built my own self-esteem."
At West Brunswick High, the STOP sign ouLside the
guidance suite sums up the essence of the program.
STOP is the acronym for "Students Trusting Other
At first students were slow in seeking out peer
helpers; the volunteers had to prove themselves trust
worthy and helpful. Though the peer helpers say it's
been a challenge, maintaining confidentiality hasn't
been a problem. A poster on the door
bears this constant reminder that it's a
top priority: "STOP ? Wiat is said
here. What is heard here. Let it stay
Peer helpers are taking their re
sponsibilities to fellow students seri
As a result, with lime, more and
more students arc turning to them
when they need to talk, to sort things
"1 think it's easier for a student to
talk to you than to an adult," said
sophomore Tammy Roberson, a peer
helper trom the Hoiden Beach area.
"It's like talking to a friend. They
think you might understand better
what they're going through."
Through peer helpers, the guid
ance office may be r^arhinp a new
group of students.
"The people who come in don't
really think the counselors can relate
to them," said Meg Small. "I think
they might not have talked to anyone
Bertha Bell.West guidance coun
selor agrees. "Often a student feels
more comfortable talking to someone
their own age. They feel they can talk
freer than with an adult. There's no
perceived 'generation gap'."
At West Brunswick, at least one i
peer helper is available every period throughout the
day. After an initial interview the peer helper and stu
dent may meet three or four more times, up to 30 min
utes at a lime, as the student tries to work out a particu
lar problem. At that point, if the peer helper has seen no
change in the situation, it's time to refer the student to a
guidance counselor. *
"They refer to us and we refer to them." said Ms.
Harris. "It works both ways."
Peer helpers walk a fine line.
Before, when a friend talked to them about a prob
lem, it was OK to offer advice. As peer helpers, it's not
"You want to so bad because you're used to talking
with your friends," said helper Meg Small of Shallotte,
a senior. "But you can't. You'd be responsible if it went
She and other volunteers say they've learned it's
better to steer close friends to other peer helpers, and
they're learning not to make other students' problems
Says Ms. Bell, "The students have been trained to
listen and not take sides, and to ask the thought provok
ing questions that cause a student to come to grips with
something. There's no 'If I were you, I would do this.'
People have to draw their own conclusions."
The students who serve as peer helpers were select
ed by recommendation of both their peers and a com
mittee of school faculty and staff. At the end of school
last year, a survey asked studenLs to list the fellow stu
dents with whom they felt most comfortable talking to.
From that came a list of prospects that was reviewed
and narrowed down by faculty members. Keeping in
mind continuity of the program, the emphasis was on
mostly sophomores and juniors, though a few seniors
CONFIDENTIALITY HELPS. Peer helpers like Tammy
Roberson (above) meet with students in private and may share
their experiences only with a guidance counselor, not other stu
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STAfF PHOTOS BY SUSAN USHtK
AMONG THE DOZEN peer helpers at West Brunswick High School are (from left) Jennifer Home,
Meg Small and Sally Schutte. They're trained to listen when a fellow student has a problem and needs
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an invitation 10 sign up for training. West's group in
cludes Becky McKeilhan. Jana Perkins, Felishia Hill,
Caroline Carlisle, Laurie Holmes, Jason Benton, Pam
Detrie and Kristina Poulos, in addition to the four stu
In training Uicy learned how to listen activeiy ana
practiced interview techniques that help students define
their problems and explore possible solutions. They al
so learned ways of telling when a referral to someone
else is appropriate or when a student is simply killing
time, and how to deal with those situations.
In their talks with students, peer helpers mosdy lis
ten. When they do talk, it is usually to rephrase some
thing a student has said, as in, "What 1 think I hear you
saying...." or to ask a question that requires more than a
yes or no answer: "What do you think your choices are?
What do you think might happen if you chose tnat op
"Wc try to help the students resolve problem for
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Peer helpers work hard at remaining objective and
always helpful. During the course of a day they may
hear about a boyfriend-girlfriend problem, a student's
difficulties with a teacher or class, or a student's own
insecurities. While a particular concern might seem mi
nor on tne surface, said Saiiy acnuttc, snc concentrates
on the student so as "to understand that to them their
problem is real, that it's very important."
While offering students another option for and pro
viding participants an opportunity for personal growth,
the peer helper program also frees counselors to spend
more time with those students who need it, say Ms.
Harris and Ms. Bell.
Both support continuation of the program next year,
but say some refinements will be made after this first
"It's been a good program, but we see some things
we need to do," said Ms. Bell.
Call today to sign up.
Marilyn J. Boehm. M.D.. Ph. D. 919-754-5581
Village Pines. Shallotte 919-754-9949
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