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Wednesday, Oct. 7, 3:46 p.m.

New UMaine mentoring program reaches out to teens

The first workshop of a Peer Counseling Training Program will be held Dec. 5 in Shibles Hall.

Through a collaboration with School Administrative District 4 and the College of Education and Human Development, the University of Maine is proud to present the inauguration of this statewide program. The purpose of the program is to help prepare students in peer counselor training, who will eventually be able to help their classmates through the challenges of a high school setting, such as bullying, depression and teen drug use.

Members of the College of Education and Human Development, Dr. Annette Nelligan and Dr. Yung-Wei “Dennis” Lin lent their talents to the program along with assistance from graduate students, Joshua Jones and Benjamin Thelwell.

The idea came about this semester after conversations with District 4 guidance counselor Eric Steeves.

“Since most school counselors have very large caseloads, Mr. Steeves felt a peer program would both assist all students in getting counseling services, help develop leadership skills in the peer counseling students and assure that the school counselor could provide more effective services schoolwide,” Nelligan said.

The first round of participating schools consists of Piscatiquis Community Secondary School, located in Guilford, and The Blue Hill Harbor School located in Blue Hill.

Students participating in the first workshop have been nominated by their teachers, are academically well-achieving with no past disciplinary problems and show potential for leadership skills.

With the growing rate of bullying, drug use and other emotional concerns in high schools, it is evident that something more needs to be done. Jones believes teens are “uniquely able to assist” in these situations since they may actively be dealing with many of these problems themselves.

“Peers often are the first to know when someone may be facing more than they can handle,” Jones said.

“The peer counseling program offers an alternative because students can access trained peers who will meet with them, discussing their concerns,” Dr. Nelligan said.

However, this does not entirely rule out the role of the guidance counselor; the trained peers may refer the student back to the guidance counselor if the issue requires additional assistance.

The inauguration of this program at a state university also has an advantage: High school students will learn critical skills in the helping profession by counselor education graduate students.

“Our program is different from most because it is designed to take advantage not only of the support the high school is able to offer but also the many educational opportunities, professional experience and technical services of a state university,” Jones said.

While there is no doubt this program can benefit Maine schools statewide, Lin says this program is not yet a research project. He continued, “Through publishing findings in the future, we may promote this program to a statewide level. . . . The potential is huge, and we will see how these two schools perceive the research idea.”

The involved graduate students also benefit from their involvement in the program.

“I’ve already learned so much about so many things and consider myself fortunate to be a small part of such an innovative, landmark program,” said Thelwell, a graduate student in the College of Education and Human Development.

“Peer counseling is proving to be one of the most effective ways to stem the growing concerns of bullying, depression, conduct disorder and drug abuse found in our nation’s high schools,” Thelwell said. “I’m proud that our university is being so proactive and will soon be impacting Maine’s statewide community in such a meaningful way.”

This first workshop is an exciting time, not just for the College of Education and Human Development but for the University community as a whole.

“We have been talking with a number of school officials, and there seems to be interest, so we are hopeful that it will grow,” Jones said.