By Serena Feldman
Health class. It is where students learn about serious issues including depression, suicide, eating disorders, drug addictions, and … there is also a star chart.
At Byram Hills, students are enough lucky to have a fun health teacher, Douglas Carpenter, who was just tenured last year. Mr. Carpenter, often referred to as “Carp,” is not the only aspect of health class that makes Byram special; the Peer Leadership Program is also unique. Peer leaders help teach health classes and act as accessible senior mentors to their sophomore counterparts.
This year is Carpenter’s first year having peer leaders who he previously taught as students. In the past, his peer leaders were taught by the previous health teacher, Mr. Levine. One peer leader, Lauren Berman, says, “I think we have a different vibe with him than our own peer leaders. He didn’t just choose us because our teachers wrote good recommendations or we had a good interview. He chose us because he saw how we were in class, and he knows who we are.”
The process for becoming a peer leader unofficially starts the second a student walks into the health classroom; however, it officially starts in the spring of junior year. Many peer leaders, including myself, can attest to how stressful waiting for the decision email was. It went last spring on a Wednesday evening at 6 pm. “My friend and Homecoming King,” Jackie Clarke jokes, “and I were together in his room. He had applied for mentor and I applied for peer leader. I remember that we were crying on his bed hugging each other when we got our emails. It’s such an honor. There’s no other way to put it.”
As Clarke states, it is an honor to be a senior leader. The school takes the role very seriously. A senior leader is expected to be a model student- one who is both hardworking and focused. These seniors are also expected to be a leader not just inside the classroom, but also outside. Carpenter states that a senior leader “does not have to be a perfect person or have the highest GPA. He or she has to be someone who genuinely tries to do the right thing and is able to think before acting. Senior leaders should be motivated by changing the world around them for good, rather than what the leadership position might look like on their college applications.”
Peer leaders are not just thrown into teaching classes without any preparation. They have first period with Carp each day during first semester to learn everything needed, such as different teaching philosophies. After all, health class is the one class no student will raise his/her hand and ask, “When will I ever use this?” The skills learned in room 206 are life-long lessons. “I feel” statements are a regular tool for communication within some students’ homes and many use the stress management techniques learned daily to help keep themselves remain calm and relaxed. Recently, peer leaders gave presentations on how to teach different learners so that everyone in their classes can understand and really take in the important information being taught. Peer leaders do not only teach; they also create and grade tests, run activities, and become confidants to students. Sophomore Olivia Gordon says, “I trust my peer leaders. I know that if I have a problem, I can go to them and they will be there for me. That’s a nice feeling to have.” That is what the peer leaders are there for.
Though the school year is young, the peer leaders are extremely excited to be part of such an amazing program.