Crenshaw County Peer Helpers learn to support fellow students

Published 12:49 am Thursday, January 26, 2023

Editor’s note: This article discusses suicide and sexual abuse. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Students in Crenshaw County Schools are rising up to support their fellow students and promote mental health through Peer Helper groups.

The Centers for Disease Control cites suicide as the second leading cause of death for persons aged 10 to 34 and according to Crenshaw County Schools Special Education Director Sherry Sport, one in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

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“With everything we’ve dealt with through COVID there’s a rise of mental health concerns which contributes to a rise of students contemplating suicide because of the large amount of stress and pressure kids are under today,” Sport said. 

Part of a national initiative, Peer Helpers is an evidence-based program equipping fourth through 12th grade students in promoting mental health among youth and reducing youth violence and suicide.

Sport said the program launched in Crenshaw schools in 2021 and partners with the Jennifer Claire Moore Foundation to promote student leadership and address bullying, abuse, drugs and alcohol, suicide, family dysfunction, peer pressure, loss, and grief.

“We train our children on the skills that they need to be a good peer helper,” Sport said. “There are five basic skills that we train on using the Prevention & Awareness For Total Health (PATH) curriculum. Our guidance counselors work through PATH with students throughout the year. The second component of Peer Helpers is to build students’ capacity for leadership and build the core skills for those students to be the hands, feet, and eyes and ears of the adults trained in how to support students struggling with life events.”

The program is funded through an Alabama State Department of Education grant, Sport said.

Bailey Kilpatrick, mental health services coordinator for Crenshaw County Schools, said each school selects participants, just a few from each grade, based on displayed leadership skills or because they relate well to and help other students.

“We teach them how to help their peers with listening skills and coping skills and also how to do a referral, so that if someone says something to them, they know who to tell,” Kilpatrick said. “They can do any kind of act toward others to help, just little things.”

Sport said peer helpers receive training which helps them identify when it is appropriate to refer another student for counseling.

“They know they can refer to a guidance counselor, an administrator on campus, or to one of their program sponsors,” Sport said. “And so, they are able to identify when there’s a situation significant enough that an adult needs to be notified immediately, so we can then align the appropriate support services for the student.”

The program is still in the early stages, but has already produced fruit in schools, where Kilpatrick has witnessed a heightened atmosphere of community among students.

“I’ve seen more community and being there for one another,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s awesome to see and experience the kids learning those skills and then applying them to their lives.”