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Mount Si students learn to reach out to peers

Mount Si senior Ryan Dix addresses Valley parents and their teenage children about peer pressure. He said he volunteered to help teach the “Staying Connected with Your Teen” class to help families communicate more effectively. Dix also reaches out to Mount Si students through the school’s Natural Helpers program. - Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Mount Si senior Ryan Dix addresses Valley parents and their teenage children about peer pressure. He said he volunteered to help teach the “Staying Connected with Your Teen” class to help families communicate more effectively. Dix also reaches out to Mount Si students through the school’s Natural Helpers program.
— image credit: Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Teenagers facilitate parenting classes through Natural Helpers program

When teenagers are upset, they don’t always feel comfortable approaching others with their problems. That’s where Mount Si High School’s Natural Helpers come in. Almost three dozen students trained in peer outreach are keeping their eyes and ears open for students in distress, and they’re ready to help.

“You join Natural Helpers and try to make Mount Si more of a community. You talk to people, get to know them, and try to help them out, because a little goes a long way,” said junior Haley Rohl, one of 34 students who was hand-picked by school faculty and staff to attend the Natural Helpers training in November.

Mount Si counselor Joe Galagan and Chief Kanim Middle School Assistant Principal Ray Wilson took Rohl and other students on a weekend-long retreat to Vashon Island, where they learned helping skills through role-playing and other dynamic exercises. The training aimed to teach students how to listen, express care and concern, and recognize situations that require professional help.

“When you’re in the hall and you see someone and they’re crying or they’re troubled, [we want you] to stop, to reach out, to introduce yourself as a Natural Helper and ask them if they would like some assistance,” said Galagan, who approached parent groups to help fund the $4,000 training program.

Once the Natural Helpers receive their training, the onus is on them to put it into use.

“We train them, and then we say, ‘Now it’s your life.’ Come back to the school, and act on your own behalf,” Galagan said.

This hands-off approach has worked, Galagan said. Many Natural Helpers check in with Galagan to report how they’ve been able to help, and students referred by Natural Helpers have come to see counselors.

This month, a specialist will train the Natural Helpers about suicide prevention. The students will then disseminate the information to their peers through short in-class presentations. Galagan said he hopes the program will help prevent tragedies like this past winter’s student suicide, which sent shock waves through the school.

Galagan facilitated the Natural Helpers program, which uses a nationally-developed curriculum, at Mount Si from 1988 to 1994. He decided to revive the program this school year, and plans to train a new crop of peer assistants in November.

“The idea is to keep it going every year,” he said, adding that many Natural Helpers also involve themselves in other programs to help the community.

“The retreat pumps the students up, and many of them want to save the world. They come back and get involved in so many different things. That’s their nature,” he said.

After junior Katie Storrs volunteered to talk to middle school students about drug and alcohol prevention, she was recruited to help teach a class called “Staying Connected with Your Teen” to Valley parents.

The five-week program, put on by the non-profit group Friends of Youth and funded through King County grants, aims to build stronger family relationships and help teenagers avoid drugs, delinquency, violent behavior and other behavioral problems. When the teenagers joined their parents for the final two sessions, Storrs and the three other Natural Helper volunteers helped teach them active listening, refusal and negotiation skills.

“Our purpose here is to share our experience. They give you the textbook way of handling things, so what we try to do is put that into words that the teens and the parents can understand and make it more practical so they can apply it,” said senior Ryan Dix. He said he volunteered because he saw the value in working “to try to bridge the gap and the confusion between a parent and a child.”

Parents appreciated the Natural Helpers’ input on how the tools they were learning in class could work at home.

“It was really great to see it actually work, and hear the teen say, ‘Hey, I like this,’” said Annette Moses, who added that the course had helped her improve communication with her 13-year-old son.

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