For the second year in a row, the PAVE (Peers Against Violence Educators)Peer Leaders of Waltham High School had their summer training at the REACH office. Club members recently voted to change the name from Peers Against ViolencE to Peers Against Violence Educators to better represent the roles they play as educators and mentors to their peers and communities. Over three days, ten high school students spent fifteen hours developing an understanding of the definition, signs, and types of abuse and how they occur; identifying and examining stereotypes; building active listening, bystander intervention, boundary setting, and supportive skills – all while connecting as a group and growing as individuals and group leaders.
Before training even started, the four returning PAVE members spent multiple meetings and hours designing and preparing for the training. They first decided what they wanted their peers to get out of the training and then determined which topics would help their peers understand the foundations of relationship abuse. After that, they practiced skills in order to facilitate groups of their peers. For this planning team, each day of training began with a check-in meeting and closed with a debrief. Afterwards, one returning member expressed that they “enjoyed sharing [their] PAVE knowledge with others who were eager to learn [and] stepping back and seeing them grow.”
The Peer Leaders were also intentional about incorporating bonding opportunities throughout training. All PAVE members had a new partner each day or half day – someone to sit next to and get to know a bit. Questions asked during lunch time encouraged group and partner discussions, and as a few new PAVE members put it, helped “build relationships” and create a “sense of togetherness” and “a sense of community.”
Over these three “intense but productive” days, the teens developed an understanding about the dynamics of abuse. They particularly enjoyed learning about the types and pattern of abuse, as well as consent. An interactive activity about gender stereotypes made the youth feel “vulnerable,” yet connected to the group.
The Peer Leaders also had a few incredible guests. REACH’s Executive Director, Laura Van Zandt, gave an inspiring tour of the office. The teens loved the play room and enjoyed seeing all of the intentional details of the office. Afterwards, Jessica Teperow, the Director of Prevention, explained REACH’s services and volunteer opportunities. Quite a few of the Peer Leaders were eager to get involved even more! The last day of training ended with an art reflection led by REACH’s Child and Adolescent Therapist, Catalina Folch. For the first fifteen minutes of the reflection, PAVE members used words and images to express how they were feeling and what they were taking from the intensive training. They then passed their papers around and their peers wrote or drew something that they wanted to give or share with that person.
The Peer Leaders gained skills, knowledge, and safe, trusting relationships – inevitably the goal of their work.