Dedicated to improving mental health in schools

Peer Educator, St Paul's Girls' School

Becoming a Peer Educator has been, I feel, a hugely enriching experience both for the younger students I have been teaching, but also for me. Not only have I increased my and other students’ awareness and knowledge of different issues surrounding mental health, but through interacting with them I have managed to gain a deeper understanding of younger girls’ attitudes towards learning about mental health, and how these change from year 7 to year 8. Going into my first lesson with year 7, I felt after that I had perhaps been too distanced from the students, moving quickly through group activities to stand at the front of the classroom and read information off the powerpoint. Although they were listening and taking in what I was saying, there was lacking a palpable eagerness to learn as when I would, for example, ask them to volunteer to write on the whiteboard a mental health stigma they had discussed with the person next to them. For me, the project therefore also became an exercise in reading a room, becoming more in tune with the body language of others, so as to tweak how I engaged with students to maintain their focus and readiness to actively participate. Moving to teach year 8 students, who have now had one more year of exposure to mental health discussion and information, I realised there was a much more pressing need to avoid patronising them through teaching things as if they had never seen them before, when they most probably had already encountered them through school or social media. I therefore decided to use the lesson plans suggested in the booklets as loose structures for discussion. The weekly themes turned into topics for debate, and the students could now share opinions and facts they had acquired since year 7, with me there to add in further details laid out in the book which they had not yet mentioned, to ensure the conversation remained equal and respectful or to keep it going through asking related questions. These discussions often continued into a development of the complexity and depth of ideas set out by the lesson plans, and at time I would find myself learning new things from younger students just by listening.
Overall, it has been a wonderful learning experience, and I hope many more students continue to partake in this project.