We're All In This Together by Marisa Crandall, Ph.D., Director of Educational and Counseling Services

Upper Schoolers provide advice and an empathetic ear to Middle School students through new Peer Support Program

In the fall of 2015, Sarah C. ‘16, Sabrina B. ‘16, and Sarah B.-W. ‘16 approached school counselor Emily Vaughn and health teacher Tinka Brown with an idea. The girls remembered the challenges they had faced in middle school, but realized that with even just a couple more years under their belt and with a little distance, those issues now seemed much smaller and more manageable. They decided to take action, and began thinking about ways the more experienced students could offer advice and support to their sisters in middle school.

In the 2015-2016 school year, these caring young women developed a proposal for the creation of “Dear Sally,” a write-in email-based peer advice program. They began meeting with Ms. Vaughn and Ms. Brown to receive training in how to respond to requests for advice via email, and in the fall of 2016, I joined the Marlborough community and this conversation. Together with the seven student leaders of this program, we ultimately decided that live peer interaction would be a more supportive format. With the agreement of Dr. Sands, Ms. Hotchkiss, and Mr. Fitts, we re-entered training with a slightly different focus.  

The seven senior leaders devoted a huge amount of time to the training process, meeting with me, Ms. Vaughn, and Ms. Brown to learn about and discuss topics including the basics of emotional development, peer mediation, friend problems, and specific concerns such as divorce and anxiety.  We spent a great deal of time practicing scenarios that may present themselves. 

We offered the program to middle school students soon after Winter Break and have had several girls arrange multiple meetings with their peer supporters.

Jenna K. ‘17 and Alexa B. ‘17 are two of the senior students who participated as peer supporters this year. Jenna joined the group because she felt that speaking with unbiased older students would have helped her navigate middle school and the transition to upper school. Alexa felt similarly, knowing it can be intimidating to talk to adults about some issues. “I think that it’s important to understand that for these seventh, eighth, and ninth graders, they are going through changes and experiences that are still immensely significant and should be valued as such,” she explained. “So, I hope that by offering this program for younger students, they will feel as though they have older girls on campus who have walked in their shoes and can be there not only as a peer supporter, but also as a friend.” 

In order to ensure that the peer supporters are providing safe and appropriate guidance, we meet weekly as a group for supervision, and my team is available at any time that they feel they need to talk with us. Ms. Vaughn, Ms. Brown, and I have been so impressed with the maturity and empathy that these young women display in their interactions with us, each other, and the younger students.  “I feel they are going to be great examples and role models in showing the strength and power of women helping, caring, and supporting one another,” Ms. Brown said.

The original seven seniors hope that this program will endure and grow, and I am excited to announce that we had 19 young women from the classes of 2018 and 2019 apply and be selected to train to become peer supporters next year.  They should all be proud of their legacy of increasing inter-divisional solidarity, and the overall well-being of the entire school community.  

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