I was honored to present at both the ASCA (American School Counselor Association) and the GSCA (Georgia School Counselor Association) Conferences on “Building a Sustainable Peer Helping Program”!
ASCA has been a great supporter of peer helping programs and even has created a position statement regarding the positive impact of peer helpers on schools. In addition, ASCA sees peer helpers as an expansion of the school counseling department.
School counselors can use peer helpers in many ways to extend their reach in the schools. Some of the numerous ways peer helpers can be used in the school include:
Reasons Programs Fall Apart!
Fortunately, I have had the privilege of creating peer helper programs and training some awesome peer helpers over the last 10 years. One problem that I experienced after creating and training a peer helper program is sustainability. Not only have I experienced this hardship, but so have other peer professionals.
At my trainings, participants shared the reasons why their programs fell apart:
1. The advisor(s) leaves the school and the program dissolves.**
2. After the first initial year, the program failed to attract new students.
3. The program failed to get support from administration and staff members.
4. The advisor had little time to devote to the program.
5. Students saw little value in being in the program and became disengaged or lazy.
6. The program provided no real value to the school.
7. The program became stagnate because the advisor and students failed or were unable to attend conferences, trainings, or summits available to them.
8. Program lacked a specific area of focus and tried to accomplish too many tasks.
Creating a Sustainable Program
Here are some simple steps to follow to keep your program vibrant and thriving:
1. Conduct an assessment to find out the specific needs of your school community.
2. Establish a vision and mission statement of your program to define the focus of your program.
3. Get trained!! All peer helper coordinators should have adequate training in establishing, coordinating, and evaluating a program.
4. Provide initial and advanced training to peer helpers.
5. Have a set of ethics and standards for your helpers. There is a set of ethics for all peer helpers established by the National Association of Peer Program Professionals.
6. Evaluate your program to make needed adjustments.
7. Continue to expand your program by expanding the role of your peer helpers.
If you are having difficulty establishing or sustaining your program, I encourage you to attend a training that will equip you with the skills and knowledge that you will need to accomplish this task.
There are several trainings that you may be interested in attending: