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The Value of a Flexible Peer Support Program

We are thrilled to introduce the use of FightSong! for Peer Support and more. To learn more about implementing flexible peer support strategies for the first time or to revise existing processes, reach out to us here to claim a very limited free semester long trial.

Research shows fewer students slip through the cracks when schools provide more options for reaching out. However, resources across all schools are stressed more than ever, none more than educator time and energy.

Take a few minutes to consider how an investment of implementing a turnkey Peer Support Program, like the one from FightSong!, could change and save student lives.

Peer Support Works – Take Advantage

Let’s agree with the research, peer support programs help students to disclose more often and disclose more authentically. Students are more likely to confide in other students or ask them for advice and support, than they are with educators, adults, or authority figures.

“Peer support Programs use the knowledge, skills and experience of children and young people in a planned and structured way to understand, support, inform and help develop the skills, understanding, confidence and self-awareness of other children and young people with whom they have something in common”

Anti-Bullying Alliance UK
FightSong! Poster Series Live Confidently

That’s why FightSong! can be used as a peer support tool to allow students to support one another confidentially.

Confidential Reporting Works

Confidential reporting is proven to increase valid reports across all industries and ages. Consider apps and sites such as Whisper, Reddit, or Imgur as confidential communication. Several threads and forums exist to anonymously talk to strangers about anything. People speak more truthfully when they feel there won’t be consequences.

However, the dynamic of a student reporting to an educator- even when its confidential can still have its barriers. A majority of students assume their reports will not stay or that the person on the other end doesn’t really care. Conversely, when a student reports confidentially to another student instead of an educator, their entire perspective of reporting shifts.

Barriers Students Face with Traditional Incident Reporting Methods

  • Students may feel shame or guilt, not wanting to be identified with their traumas.
    • Confidential reporting allows students to communicate without being identified. Imagine being a student who was victimized so terribly that their shame or fear of repercussions prevents them from speaking up. This is a very frequent occurrence (SOURCE) and scaffolding is required.
  • Students may have trouble talking about their mental health symptoms.
    • Even as discussions about mental health become more accessible and tolerated, many students may not want to be judged or labeled for the severity of their symptoms.
    • It’s also common for students to not know what’s going on with their emotions and not have the words to describe their experience.
    • Facilitating emotional learning is of critical importance to improve student outcomes.
  • Students may not think educators will understand as they could be perceived as out of touch.
    • No number of PD days with training to the contrary is going to change the mind of some students: grown ups just won’t understand what they are going through.
  • Traditional Incident Reporting is focused on the perpetrator discipline not personal growth.
    • By creating a Confidential proctored program you reach twice as many students, victims, instigators, and personal growth from those providing support.
    • Teaching others is the surest sign of skill mastery, right? Students who can teach the SEL curriculum help other students relate to it and internalize the information themselves.
  • Most insidiously, a lot of victimization comes from kids inside the reporter’s friend groups.
    • Students whose friends are victimizing them are especially unlikely to seek support. They may not understand that they do not have high quality friends, blame themselves for the victimization, become codependent on the friend groups and resist any interference from adults to sever that bond. Plus not being able to talk to the students closest to the reporter allows problems to fester in isolation.

Encouraging students to confidentially talk about how they are feeling with peer mentors, who can directly relate to what they are going through, provides several avenues for growth. Both groups of students have the opportunity to grow and learn from other students, while re-enforcing SEL techniques taught throughout K-12.

How to Use FightSong! as a Confidential Online Peer Support Program

Digital peer support programs can help resolve social isolation and facilitate emotional support for students with minimal educator time investment. That’s the beauty of them! Students who receive and respond to reports feel a sense of connection, healing their loneliness. When students who report feel heard, it heals them, too.

The FightSong! Platform was designed with versatility in mind. Every district has their own system for escalating through MTSS (multi-tiered support structures). The creeping rise of the student to counselor ratio, sudden switch to online schools, and the unknown long-term impact of COVID-19 these systems are being overwhelmed and burning out staff, while students are feeling more isolated and stressed than ever. Using an online communication platform such as FightSong! for peer to peer support can help alleviate much of the extra demand counselors are facing.

1. Send permission slips

It is extremely important than permission is given by the parents and guardians. Since your school has a template for this, we won’t dive too deep– all the information you need should be within this document. If not– feel free to ask!

2. Identify your peer support curriculum

Before selecting students to rotate in shifts to provide peer support, these students need to receive some training in how to best provide emotional support to other students. Choose your preferred curriculum for this, every educator, school and student has different needs. ASCD has some resources that support and define using peer systems along with this great outline from a program implemented in Canada.

3. Select your peer support students

FightSong! Poster: Hero Series

When selecting your peer supporters, it’s key to first cast a wide net to ensure equity and representation. It’s best to avoid selecting only students you personally know out of convenience, though those kids could be great to have as well! We encourage general calls for help through widely accessible channels– website, email, any student communication hub. We also encourage reaching out directly to leaders of student community groups of all kinds. If a student doesn’t feel represented and like they have someone they can relate to on the receiving end of their concerns, they will be less likely to reach out.

Ensure there are a few steps for students to sign up. This provides a screening process to ensure that your peer supporters are reliable. Here’s one idea: consider requesting they write an email with specific requests versus filling out a form. To effectively support other students, it’s important to make sure the supporters can follow directions and listen. After you receive an email from a potential supporter, write an email, request a brief chat based meeting with them using your school’s direct messaging service.

We encourage giving students short recurrent shifts each week that work for them. Build into your program the habit of students checking in after each shift via a direct message in FightSong! using the supporter to supporter chat. This allows students an opportunity to learn to decompress and maintain a healthy relationship with this and any caregiving practice. For most schools, students send less than 5 messages per school day.

4. Establish parameters for educator oversight

Any administrator of FightSong! can see every message sent and received by students in a peer support program. It is best practice for an educator to read through messages sent and received periodically to ensure supporters don’t need redirecting or support. Be sure to let your peer supporters know when you decide to check in.

At any time, an administrator of FightSong! (which can be any member of the school staff) can receive an escalation notice about any particular student. This includes the geographic location of the reporter, media attached to their message and information about the students identity. Students do not have access to other student’s identities. However, emergency situations can require if a student is using their school issued Chromebook or other device with a student ID number, a quick call to the Director of Technology can immediately identify the student. If a student is using a personal device

5. Collaborate with your student peer supporters on an escalation plan

Talk to your student supporters about when a report needs to be escalated. Include them in the development of the plan and begin with communicating legal liability. Ensure the supporters feel agency and have buy in during the process. This will improve their effectiveness at supporting.

Interested in Joining FightSong! We are Looking for Pilot Schools

We are offering the full FightSong! Social-Emotional Reporting Platform pilot program with a semester of our student peer support app to 25 schools throughout the US and Canada.

To learn more about implementing a new peer support program for the first time or to revise existing programs, reach out to us here to claim a free semester long trial.

Peer Support for Youth and Young Adults who Experience Serious Mental Health Conditions: State of the ScienceYouth & Young Adult Peer Support FAQWith Friends like These: Aggression from Amity and EquivalenceEstablishing the Need for Peer CoachingPeer Support and Other Strategies Resources
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Using only the latest research on bullying and mental health, Kacy supports evidence based education practices for all educators, including school counselors, administrators, psychologists, teachers and school resource officers.

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