Christopher O'Neil Peer Education Program

Mount Saint Joseph's High School

4403 Frederick Road

Baltimore, MD 21229


Brandy Campbell

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Mount Saint Joseph High School
The O’Neil Peer Education

Since the 1994-1995 school year, upperclassmen at Mount Saint Joseph High School have been teaching peer education lessons to freshmen classes. The classes start in February and run through April. This program is referred to as the O’Neil Peer Education Program. The program is named after and funded by the Christopher O’Neil Memorial Foundation. This foundation was established to honor Chris, a Loyola High School student, who lost his life in a drunk-driving related accident. The O’Neil family’s dream is to help prevent similar tragedies through the funding of effective prevention programs.

Twenty juniors and seniors serve as “peer educators” and lead open, honest discussions about health-related issues. Topics include the risks and consequences connected to the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. The depression and the treatment and respect of others are other topics covered by the peer educators.

The O’Neil Program is based on research findings which state that peer-lead instruction is an effective method of preventing adolescents from engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

A team of counselors and administrators select and train the peer educators. These students are selected because they possess the ability to communicate in a genuine manner. As a group, they represent the diversity of the freshman class.

After making a commitment to the program, the peer educators receive intensive training in January. On a three-day retreat led by counselors and administrators, the peer educators have an opportunity to interact with one another, share their concerns about this undertaking and practice presenting a lesson. They have a tremendous amount of materials to help them prepare for their lessons. The students are divided into teams. Each team is comprised of three students and has a counselor as an advisor.

Once in the freshman seminar classes, the three –member O’Neil teams do more than merely present educational information. Using role-plays, small group activities, games, and video clips, they generate discussions, ideas, and alternatives.
Each team of peer educators teaches a freshmen class of approximately 15 students once a week for 4 weeks and then repeats the lessons with a second class the next 4 weeks. By the end of the 4 weeks, a bond has developed between many of the freshmen and their peer educators, providing the freshmen with a friendly, familiar upperclassman to whom they can turn to for further assistance or advice.