They’re youths who always are there to lend an ear, confide in, and be a shoulder to cry on, and a newly-launched program at Fort Frances High School is aiming to train these “natural helpers” so they form an even better support system for their peers.
“It’s the first time for this school, but it’s a program that is all throughout North America,” noted Shane Beckett, the Fort High teacher who is heading the “Natural Helpers” program.
“Students identify other students in the school that they go to naturally for help, at whatever level,” he explained.
“So once we identify those kids, then it’s training those kids to help helpers be better helpers.”
The program, which kicked off with 21 students attending a training retreat at the beginning of October, so far has taught participants how to be a better listener, explained Brooke Hammer, who was selected to be a part of it.
“When people come to us for help now, we know what we can do to help,” she said. “So instead of giving someone bad advice, we can refer them to someone else, and overall when people come to us for help we know how to help.”
“We learned how to be better listeners and how to act when we come against our limits, and now we know what we can do to help if we come against our limits,” added Kiela Ford, one of the other “helpers.”
“Because if it’s like suicide or something like that, we don’t know what to do to help, so we can always go see Mr. Beckett or help them go see a counsellor,” she noted.
“We did some training [with students] on just how to be good listeners, how to see different signs—where maybe kids do have problems, but they’re not verbalizing their problems, so how to sort of see those red flags in kids,” Beckett said about what has happened so far with the training.
With this being just the beginning of the program, there are plans to continue meeting monthly throughout the school year, Beckett said, and to give students more training on specific problems like depression and suicide, and to pinpoint other issues.
The 21 participants were selected following a school-wide survey of more than 500 students who were asked to identify the two people that they would go to for help.
“The retreat was kind of more to bring the group together as a cohesive group and then network the helpers,” Beckett said. “[To] just kind of give them more of a knowledge of why they’re already good helpers and why people go to them already.
“Because they’re already doing the things naturally.
“There was a real team-building aspect to the retreat, to try and bring all the groups together to feel like it’s a safe and trusting environment,” Beckett added, noting that even though many of the students had been in school for years together, they didn’t even know
“I liked meeting new people because I’d seen them around the school, but didn’t know what they were like because some of them seemed intimidating and stuff because they were older,” said Ford.
“But when I got to know them, I learned they were really cool, and in some ways they were just like me.”
One of favourite activities included a handful of the students being given “labels” they couldn’t see themselves, but with instructions for others such as “nerd, make fun of me” “leader, follow me,” or “good looking, hit on me.”
Following the activity, students discussed how labels exist in the school environment and the impact they have.
This type team-building also will help the students when it comes to helping out other students who may not be in their immediate group of peers, noted Hammer, citing the example that if they see someone who is an older grade than them not having a “good day,” then they would be able to approach one of the other 21 “helpers” who would know that person and be able to help
“I’m just excited to see where they’re going to take it,” enthused Beckett, adding that even with just a small group of 21 students, each of these students will have a positive impact even if it’s just amongst their own groups within the school.
“I’m excited to see how it evolves.”