Christopher O'Neil Peer Education Program

Boys' Latin School

822 W. Lake Avenue

Baltimore, MD 21210


Tyler Betz

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Boys' Latin School's Peer Education Program

The Peer Education Program is a health education program that attempts to effect changes in students’ behaviors by addressing the attitudes that are often the antecedents of risky decisions. Attitudes such as “This is what all high school students do” or “It was an accident; there was nothing we could do to prevent it” can foster risky decisions. Too often adolescents fail to consider the options available to them or take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions because of these mistaken beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes. The lack of educated discussion among teens adds to the problem.

The Peer Education Program attempts to counter these forces. The intent of the Program is not to prescribe specific behaviors, but rather to encourage critical thinking and discussion among our students concerning the issues that they face, the processes by which they make their decisions, the forces (attitudes, beliefs, etc.) that influence their decisions, and the options that they have.

The Program's faculty team trains Upper School students to present lessons to 6th and 9th graders that challenge the attitudes that may result in risky decisions/behaviors and promote a consideration of the potential consequences and alternatives. In addition, the presence of peers as teachers/facilitators provides a model of how to have constructive and thoughtful discussions on a variety of topics. The goals and objectives of each individual lesson support in some way what the faculty team holds as principles of a healthy lifestyle. These principles were adapted from Loyola Blakefield's program and include the following:

  1. 1. Life involves risks. Some are healthy, while others are unhealthy. The issue is whether the potential gain is worth the risk.
    2. Sound mental health involves a number of factors. Two factors are the ability to be honest with oneself and the ability to create options and alternatives.
    3. Learning ways to deal with stress is an important part of life.
    4. Feelings are neither good nor bad. How we act on our feelings may be positive or negative.
    5. Accidents are avoidable. This does not mean that an individual has control over all of the factors that may be involved in an accident, yet it recognizes that the individual does play some role.
    6. Experience may be the best teacher, but it is not the only teacher. Some lessons are too risky to be learned through experience.
    7. Alcoholism or other drug addiction is a disease. It is not caused by a character flaw, lack of willpower, or mental illness.
    8. There is a risk of negative consequences associated with any type of substance use—experimental use, social use, abuse, or addiction.
    9. No man is an island. The statements and decisions we make affect others.
    Differences do not equal deficiencies. Every person regardless of race, age, gender, and sexual orientation should be treated with respect.

The Peer Education Program was established at Boys' Latin School during the 1995-1996 school year. The program is a health education program developed at the Harvard University School of Public Health under the direction of Dr. Charles Deutsch. The goal of the program is to educate students about a range of topics aimed at physical and emotional well-being. Lessons address such topics as alcohol and other drug use, respecting differences, conflict resolution, fitting in, and asking for help. Upper School students present the lessons to 6th and 9th graders. The faculty team believes that the program plays a significant role in encouraging physical and emotional health in our students.

The peer educators are selected by the faculty members of the program to create a team with a range of individual talents, interests, and abilities. The faculty looks over the entire student body (grades 10-12) for students who communicate in an honest, straightforward, and frank manner. It is not the team’s intent to assemble a team of straight-A students. Rather, the aim is to select students who represent all of the different subgroups in the school. The team attempts to reach all the personalities and groups in the middle school. Peer educators do not sign a contract pledging that they will not use. Rather, they are asked to appreciate the purpose of the program and not to act in a way that would jeopardize the program’s integrity. This issue becomes grist for the mill during the training sessions.

The role of the faculty team is to train and support the peer educators. The peer educators participate in three half-day training sessions in addition to a two-night retreat. The half-day training dates are scheduled during the first semester. The overnight retreat is scheduled two nights usually during the first weekend in February. One focus of the training sessions is to help the students develop an appreciation for their task. Thus, many training activities are aimed at having the peer educators examine themselves. In addition, the students become familiar with the goals of the program, the curriculum, and methods of instruction. They practice the lessons with the opportunity for feedback. Throughout the year, the teams meet with their assigned faculty member to fine-tune their skills.

The peer educators teach 10-12 lessons to 6th graders and 2 lessons to 9th graders. The 9th grade lessons are presented during a special assembly time during the Second Semester. The 6th grade lessons are taught over the course of the second semester with one team presenting a different lesson each week. These begin soon after the peer educators return from the retreat.