Recently, I had the opportunity to teach a class of 13 8th graders about drugs and alcohol, high school myths, self-image, and social media. Over the class period, we laughed, we got to know each other, and we got deep.
Along with 18 other Friends 10th through 12th graders, I’m a peer educator. All of us were nominated anonymously by teachers and staff who thought we could be good role models for younger students. It is one of the few Upper School honors that rewards the choices we make outside of the classroom. All this year, we’ll meet once a month with a class of 8th graders, and talk through the hard choices that teenagers face.
The first day was primarily an introduction, to get to know the students and let them get to know us. Upper School students left our classes early to participate. When I met my team in the Middle School lobby, we talked about how we were going to approach the day’s trust-building.
When we got to the room, it was empty. One by one, students started to come in. When everyone settled into their seats, we went through roll call and introduced ourselves.
Then we did an icebreaker, to warm up the group and help us start to bond: 'Where the West Wind Blows.'
“The West wind blows to someone wearing black,” someone would say, and all the people wearing black would have to move to a new spot. The last person in the middle would say the next query.
After about eight rounds, we got to the lesson. We coached students to make a list of class guidelines that needed to be followed. Then, we read a story on Christopher O'Neill.
Christopher O’Neil was an outgoing junior at Loyola High School who died in a car accident. He focused on and valued his relationships with his friends. When he died, his parents got into contact with Harvard’s School of Public Health, which designed a Peer Education program for independent schools in the Baltimore area: Loyola, Mount Saint Joseph, Bryn Mawr, Gilman, and Friends.
Christopher’s parents did this because they wanted to do something with the donations people were making in his memory, and they wanted it to be predominantly centered around youth. After we read the story, we asked the students what they had learned.
Then we played another game:'Two truths and a lie.' Everyone was joking and laughing.
“I eat Mayonnaise with a spoon sometimes. I have a pet fish, a clownfish. And I like dogs,” said one girl. The lie was the clownfish!
This surprised everyone. No one could believe it. Some of us were kind of disgusted. But no one made fun of her. Then, we played “Would You Rather,” and discussed what we’d choose in different dilemmas.
After a few rounds, we asked students to settle into their seats, so we could spend the last 15-20 minutes having them ask us questions. Questions about anything, from school, to life, to sports, and more.
It took them a while to open up, but once they did, they did not stop asking. It was amazing. They asked about everything, from the high school schedule, to phone usage, to high school parties, and peer pressures of drinking and smoking at them.
As we closed out, we asked them to come to us with any questions or problems.
Overall, the day and the class were very energetic and fun. My first time as a Peer Educator, I was proud, happy, and excited to be able to help the youth with their journey in life.
I look forward to future lessons and classes with this great group of kids, and my trustworthy team.