It’s June. It’s hot. It’s hard to believe that the school year is over – my first full school year as Youth Education Specialist for REACH and as an adviser for Peers Against ViolencE (PAVE), a peer leadership club at Waltham High School (WHS). I started with PAVE on my first day at REACH, joining a club that was founded by a former REACH Youth Education Specialist and school adjustment counselor several years ago. The club has evolved and grown tremendously over the years; what we were able to accomplish this year was truly a testament to the work of my predecessors and the students and school staff who have shaped this group.
So what did we do?
We jumped into the school year with energy and gusto. In September, the Peer Leaders designed and ran a community art project at the Fall Festival. Even when it started raining, they helped kids keep coloring under orange plastic tablecloths!
October was focused on WHS’ One School, One Story book, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Every year students and teachers at the high school read and discuss one book as a community. Speak is about personal and public response to trauma, so PAVE created programming to help their peers learn more deeply about relationship abuse. With the help of Catalina, our Child and Adolescent Therapist, they led an art-based mindfulness open meeting, walked around during lunch one day asking their peers about consent, and hosted a Real Talk event at the Waltham Public Library. Some of these conversations were not easy, but they were visibly important to the participants.
November and December were quiet. I was teaching at other schools almost every day, making it difficult for me to attend the weekly meetings. Mariel and Rachel, our PAVE Officers, maintained the energy of the club, helping to ensure its continued sustainability. It was such an honor witnessing their growth as they stepped into these leadership roles.
We started 2018 with an open meeting on gender, sexuality, and healthy and unhealthy relationships. We were lucky to have one of REACH’s interns, Tamia, begin to support the club and build relationships with the Peer Leaders. Then came February, Teen Dating Awareness Month. Each February we host “PAVE Day,” a day to raise awareness around TDV and what PAVE does. During this event we connected with students and teachers and were even able to schedule workshops in some biology classes as a result.
March and April were busy. We taught in the biology classes, facilitated workshops on gender and sexuality with Teen Safe (a peer group at Journey to Safety, the domestic violence program at Jewish Family & Children Services) and one on boundaries to Club GRCB in Brookline, attended the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Walk for Change, and had an interactive table during intermission at the school musical (“Bring It On”).
I also learned that we bring the rain. At the WHS Health Fair in May it kept raining but people kept coming – to analyze song lyrics, learn about PAVE and REACH, and answer: “is having power in a relationship healthy or unhealthy?”
Throughout May we taught some 7th grade health lessons at Kennedy Middle School. I taught 8th grade health classes at McDevitt Middle School and next year the Peer Leaders will hopefully join me there as well!
In May we also hosted an open meeting on identity. Our icebreaker really challenged people to think about what makes them who they are. I keep a piece of the activity at my desk to remind me each day.
Now here we are in June. We started the month by leading workshops at the Mayoral Youth Summit. A scenario that explored Truth or Dare and consent provoked an intense debate that we are still thinking about. We also hosted a teacher appreciation breakfast to deepen our partnerships with WHS faculty and staff. The last day of school was Step Up Day, when rising freshmen explore the high school and its different teams and clubs. Almost twenty students signed up on our “want to learn more” form!
In the last weeks of school we also reviewed applications, conducted interviews, and welcomed 14 new PAVE Peer Leaders into the club. That means that 26 students will start the year as Peer Leaders, and maybe more will join in the fall! Together we will plan and lead a fifteen-hour Summer Training in July to teach new members content knowledge, develop facilitation skills, and bond as a group.
After July is August. After August, September. In September, school starts again…
But we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. Just as the energy of the school year is important for the club, so too is the rejuvenation, training, and centering that takes place in the summer. In this collaborative work, taking the time to bond, to build relationships, to just be, helps build the framework for our more tangible work.
So how can you help us deepen our work even more?
Continue the conversation. Talk with the young people in your life about consent, communication, and what makes relationships healthy and unhealthy. Support our work financially so we can fund training opportunities for the Peer Leaders. Ask questions, challenge yourself to learn from others, listen to your Peers, and have a good summer.