Recently, the issue of mental health among students has taken on a new sense of urgency. Especially in current circumstances, many schools have been making conscious efforts to help kids cope with the possible stress and anxiety that comes with being a current high school student.
In addition to the Wellness Center and free counseling sessions, one of the ways that La Cañada High School has been aiding its students during this difficult time is through Peer Support.
Since getting approved by the Governing Board two years ago, the Peer Support group has been providing help and advice for students by students, whether the issue be school or non-school related.
The group offers 100% confidential one-on-one meetings (all peer helpers have signed contracts that promise strict adherence to this confidentiality promise) to anyone who needs it. Students are welcome to discuss any issues: big or small, school or non-school related, there will always be a trained peer helper there to talk.
As with everything else, the pandemic posed some obvious obstacles for the group.
“We defined and practiced new ways to show others you are present and listening through the computer screen,” Rachel Zooi, who teaches Peer Support 2 and 3, said. “So much of that is sensed in-person and through verbal and non-verbal cues that don’t translate the same to Zoom or Meet.”
Despite these hurdles, Peer Support has still been able to find ways to continue to help its students, albeit virtually. They recently added a Peer Support “Talking Helps” drop-in request link to the Virtual Wellness Center in the support resource section, allowing students to easily request to talk to either a Peer Support student or a Wellness Center staff member within 24-48 hours during school hours.
Students can also sign up for a session by simply emailing “hi” to firstname.lastname@example.org, from which they will then receive an automated email allowing them to pick a specific time. All students are encouraged to reach out at any time.
Besides continuing to provide one-on-one help for its fellow students, the Peer Support group has also been hard at work improving and expanding the actual program itself.
Peer Support has already delivered 20 virtual outreach “lessons” so far this year to seventh and eighth-grade classrooms, to attract any prospective members. Its students are also piloting a Mental Wellness Basics unit, which is currently being considered as an addition to the Health course graduation requirement.
“It’s been a really rewarding experience being able to help others and spread awareness about mental health,” Peer Support member Skyla Park said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past three years in the program since a huge part of Peer Help 1 is identifying your own values and figuring out who you are.”