Written by PAVE Peer Leaders and Molly Pistrang
“I had lots of fun! I can’t wait for the upcoming school year!”
If you can believe it, a teenager said that while at REACH this summer. But why the enthusiasm about returning to school?
Well, that teen is a member of the PAVE Peer Leaders, a student club at Waltham High School (WHS), and we had just finished their summer training. But what kind of high school club requires a formal fifteen-hour training? And what could that training possibly entail?
Those were some questions I asked myself this year as I started my first summer at REACH. I had been hearing about how amazing Summer Training was all throughout the year, and now I had to help plan and lead it. Luckily, this year taught me what type of club PAVE is. The PAVE Peer Leaders is a club comprised of students at WHS who lead open meetings and workshops, start dialogue during health fairs and lunches, interview new members, and teach classes about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. They lead these conversations with peers who are younger, the same age, and even older than them. They truly are Peer Leaders who build the skills to navigate complex and sensitive conversations about these topics.
But first, Summer Training. In order to spread awareness and educate their peers, the Peer Leaders must first participate in our Summer Training. Summer Training begins with intense co-planning. To prepare, the returning Peer Leaders and I generated goals. These included: creating a safe space to learn about the complex issues of relationship violence, bonding as a group, and developing facilitation skills. Then we developed a three-day, fifteen-hour training around those goals, similar to the 40-hour training our new staff and volunteers complete.
Co-facilitation is integral to the training. Before training started, I was nervous that I would talk too much. Instead, the Peer Leaders led most of the activities and developed facilitation skills while doing so. One Peer Leader explained that “this was my second time being a part of summer training and my experience was very different. It was different because I helped facilitate some of the activities that took place. Through facilitating I learned a lot about myself. This experience changed me for the better. I learned key tips like pausing after asking a question to allow people to think, as well as asking the person/group certain questions that could provoke a further thought or discussion.”
Teaching is indeed an act of learning. In order to be able to teach, one has to deeply understand and engage with a topic on a nuanced and sophisticated level. Each time we teach (or facilitate, or lead, or whatever term we use), we inevitably learn something new- a new perspective, a new fact, or a new self-realization. Summer Training is a valuable experience because it enables the Peer Leaders to facilitate many moments of learning – both within themselves and within others- during intensive workshops like Summer Training, casual lunchtime conversations at school, or middle school health classes throughout the year.
Such individual and collaborative learning also, understandably, requires a depth of content knowledge. During Summer Training and throughout the year the Peer Leaders learn about a variety of topics connected with the issue of relationship abuse and teen dating violence. As another Peer Leader stated, “my knowledge of a healthy relationship[s], unhealthy relationship[s], consent, boundaries, and domestic abuse has expanded. I’m honored to be a part of the club and work with amazing people who really want to help people and make a change in our community.” The idea is that after Summer Training the Peer Leaders will have begun to develop the skills and knowledge to calmly facilitate difficult conversations about these topics. This is a work in progress, but it is progressing.
The concerns I initially had about summer training dissipated as soon as training started. While we were sitting in REACH’s training room for five hours a day, the activities we planned had us moving around, writing on our whiteboard wall, or turning and talking with a partner. We were active and engaged on a physical and intellectual level. We did silly icebreakers and had serious conversations. We built trust, spoke honestly, and took risks. We were present in the space together. As one peer leader shared, we learned in a “space [that] was open and [where] it felt safe to say what I thought;” where we felt “the freedom of being you.”
Summer training is an intense experience that helps prepare the Peer Leaders for the upcoming year- a year they can’t wait for. It is a nuanced and evolving experience that can be further defined in this way:
“I really enjoyed summer training for PAVE this year. As a group of peers, we all worked together to have a clear understanding of topics related to healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to help others when in need. Summer training let the PAVE members bond with each other while in the process of learning how to have leadership qualities. I am very excited for PAVE this year because of the members we have and all of the information we obtained just over three days! We had tons of fun learning and bonding and I can’t wait to go around the school with the group and help others learn!”
Welcome to the new year.
Thank you to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office for helping fund this work.