Among the many innovative programs offered by Boundary County School District #101, the peer mediation program called Natural Helpers is one that stands out as being at the forefront in supporting youth through those difficult teenage years.
Natural Helpers Contribute To A Positive School Atmosphere.
According to co-advisors Laura Anderson and Tracy Iverson, Natural Helpers has been an active group at Bonners Ferry High School for around 20 years. The students who are in the program provide informal, individual contact with their peers who may need support or just someone to talk to during the school day.
"When you're kind of down and you have someone recognize that you're down, it can really help," said Tracy. "Kids have to deal with failing tests, boyfriend/girlfriend problems, put downs by peers or just feeling bad about themselves."
Laura said that the peer mediators are selected by their classmates via a survey distributed in the fall. These students are identified by other students as good listeners and trustworthy. The anonymous survey also asks students to identify issues that are of the most concern in the student body at that time. Everybody in the school takes the survey.
Tracy said that it is important that the students who are selected are mature enough to listen to problems and keep the information confidential.
"The Natural Helpers have to know when it's time to refer a student to an adult for additional help," Laura said. "They are trained to know when it is appropriate to refer. Part of their training teaches them to identify upset behavior and how to reach out to despondent individuals. The kids are encouraged to know what they are capable of doing. We don't want them to take on any more than they themselves can emotionally handle."
Tracy said that there is a wide range of students who are involved in the Natural Helpers program.
"There is not just one group of kids," she said, "because if the students themselves are identifying those who listen and trust, it becomes a more ecclectic group."
The co-advisors estimated that there are about 50 students involved with Natural Helpers.
"We have about 30 core members," said Laura. "We have a pretty strong group of kids."
Although originally a national program, Laura said that the program at Bonners Ferry High School has been tailored to fit the needs of Boundary County teenagers.
The students meet once per month. Tracy said that the students run the meeting under the direction of the Natural Helpers president. The secretary takes the roll.
There is also a Student Council representative and a vice president who takes charge of the meeting in the president's absence.
The meetings consist of some structured activities such as trust building activities. There are also role playing activities to model how the Natural Helpers should handle different situations. The students are also taught what to look for in students who may be having a difficult day and could use someone to talk to.
Tracy said that Natural Helpers also includes a community service component. Each year the students make sock monkeys and conduct a money drive for the Care N Share program prior to Christmas.
"Every year the kids donate their own change after lunch," said Laura. "Last year we earned between $400 and $500 in four days' time."
Tracy said that the students always help with Harvest Night as well as registration, and fill in during emergency situations such as the blood drive.
"A Natural Helper might help a kid consistently or infrequently," said Tracy. "They are just there when needed."