Natural Helpers program offers help

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This is my fourth year teaching at Barranca. Over my years teaching here, I have had students abused, suffering from depression, stressed beyond belief, socially inept, suicidal, bullied and more. I was tired of seeing students struggle and feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. They should not be fighting these battles alone.
If these kids are truly our future, we must invest heavily in them now. Students must learn not only how to support each other but to accept support from others. Bradford Parker, our school principal, brought Natural Helpers to my attention as a way to address the needs of our student population. After investigating the program, I agreed and with the support of Parker and Dr. Gene Schmidt, the superintendent, I worked to get this program in place for our school.
The Natural Helpers program is for fifth and sixth grade students at Barranca. If the beginning success is any indication, this program will continue for many years. Natural Helpers is a peer-to-peer helping program, meaning students learn how to help their friends and other students who need someone to talk to. Natural Helpers are students who are identified by their peers as someone they can trust, someone who cares, and someone who likes to help others.
The identified students are then trained and supported by adult mentors to positively help and support their peers. As students mature through their pre-teen and teenage years, their peers become more and more important. This program helps build a network within this group that is educated, strong and committed to supporting other teens.
We hope that the success of our program will motivate other Los Alamos Schools to implement it as well. We are working to share our experiences and support other schools as they work to implement Natural Helpers in their schools.
Currently, we are working with two interested elementary schools and the middle school. It is our vision that other schools will join the high school and Barranca in order to provide this program for all fifth through 12th graders in Los Alamos. The more students who are confident in themselves and can support their peers, the stronger our youth will be.
I would like to thank all those who have made this program at Barranca possible. First, I want to give a big thanks to Audrey Juliani, Barranca fifth grade teacher, for joining me early in the process and whom I’m lucky to have work with me to implement the program. I would also like to thank our school nurse, Sheila McClees, who spent the night with us at our retreat and has been a source of huge support.
Special thanks to JoAnn Sartorius, from the New Mexico Department of Health, for helping us have such a successful retreat and sharing her expertise with us. Critical funding has been provided by the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, Kiwanis, Barranca Elementary and Barranca PTO. The YMCA has also provided support by donating day passes to our students for team building activities this year. Lastly, we want to thank parents, community, staff and students who have been extremely supportive of our efforts. Together, we will make a difference in Los Alamos youth.

Nicole McGrane, M.Ed
teacher, Barranca Mesa Elementary
Los Alamos