Pleasant Grove High launches campus peer counseling program

More stories from By Lilah Gonsalves

Pixabay+Image.

Pixabay Image.

Looking to alleviate some of the challenges of being a contemporary high school student, Pleasant Grove High School this year has begun offering support from those who understand students best – their own peers. 

The new program, led by health teacher Jill Winder, will give struggling students access to more than 30 trained peer counselors during school hours in an attempt to make mental health support and guidance more readily available. 

“I hear from my students often about different problems that they have,” Winder said, “and really, a lot of times they just need someone to listen to them. Sometimes they want advice, but most times they just want someone to listen.” 

Concerned by some of the problems she’s witnessed in her own classroom, Winder, who was a peer counselor herself while she was in high school, was inspired to create the program, especially given how busy Pleasant Grove’s professional counselors are. 

“There are still over 300, maybe 400, kids on their caseloads,” Winder said, “so they don’t have enough time to meet with kids for lower-level kinds of problems, and this is a way that peers can help and support each other and understand things in a way that adults may not.” 

Pleasant Grove’s social worker, Kate Nuttall, agrees with the merit of students being able to help other students. While she’s one of the adults who would normally meet with students who are struggling either academically or emotionally, Nuttall also sees the importance of connecting with a peer. 

“I’ve seen some students not wanting to talk to an adult, but they’re with their friends or their peers and it’s easier to talk with them,” Nuttall said. “So I feel like peer counselors can kind of bridge that gap and break that ice to make the student feel more comfortable.”

Peer counselors aren’t suited for every level of problem, as Nuttall admitted students “don’t always want their peers involved or need some adult support.” But, she said it’s a helpful primary step toward relieving the campus’ minor problems and providing students a connection to additional aid if needed. 

Peer counseling isn’t the first student-based counseling program Pleasant Grove has tried. A past program, Eagles Seeking Peace, was a long-run system centered around student counselors helping to mediate disagreements between their peers. It ended at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Winder said, “It was not well used by students because they were concerned about their parents being notified. They were scared of getting in trouble and didn’t want to be seen like they were tattling on their peers.”

The new peer counseling program will attempt to succeed in ways the old system failed. Under the new program, everything is kept confidential between the student and the peer counselor. Parents won’t be notified unless the problem is deemed to be of a certain severity, such as if the student has intentions of inflicting harm on themselves or others or is being abused. 

Even the process of requesting a counselor is discreet, as all students have to do is scan one of the many QR codes that can be found posted around campus and fill out the attached Google Form. From there, the professional counseling staff will send a pass for the student and peer counselor to leave class at a convenient time. It’s then up to the student where they feel most comfortable meeting, whether outside, in the office or at the library, where they can talk for as long as they need. 

One of the peer counselors, senior Kylea Lindelli, said she is enthusiastic about starting the program, and she looks forward to connecting with peers during these sessions. 

“I wanted to be a peer counselor in order to help others and be a friend to people on campus that I would otherwise not know without this program,” Lindelli said. “I want to also personally work on my talking skills with others and be able to help those that have gone through similar things that I have.”

While the program has been off to a slow start, mainly due to its newness, Lindelli hopes a recent burst of advertising will increase awareness of the program on campus. She thinks it could prove to be a valuable tool for Pleasant Grove students. 

“I think that if it becomes popular,” Lindelli said, “it will really be effective and help those that just need someone to listen or talk to.”