New Peer Listener Program Aims to Foster Meaningful Conversations Across Campus

The Peer Listener Program is a newly implemented role for the 2021-2022 school year to provide a peer support system across campus. Selected Uppers and Seniors will be trained to listen to their peers in an empathetic, respectful manner and help to educate students on various wellness topics.

According to Kate Dolan, Assistant Dean of Students and Residential Life, the driving force for the creation of the program was student interest. Several years ago, a few students applied for an Abbot Grant to look into a similar system of peer support. 

“It’s something we’ve thought about for a couple of years. I think a lot of other schools have them, on slightly different things. I think there’s a need for it in the community… just a role that’s really suited for help, to both provide literally a listener and also provide education,” said Dolan.

Nicole Jeter, Director of Wellness and Prevention Education, plans to spearhead the new program to support student transition into the Andover community. Jeter, along with Vivian Baez, Psychological Counselor and Wellness Educator, and other adult supporters of the program, will additionally host weekly meetings with Peer Listeners as part of the training protocol. 

“We really wanted to provide students here with the opportunity to serve as peer support to their peers. And we know that there are roles on campus, like Prefects and EBI seniors, but we really saw this one as a role where students can go in and support student transition into the community and help with community building and have a sense of allyship,” said Jeter.

According to Jeter, while the logistics of the program are yet to be outlined, a possible plan is to have office hours for peer support available in different locations on campus, such as in Paresky Commons and the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. Students would then be able to engage in individual or group conversations with the peer listener of their choice. 

After participating in a 12-hour training process at the beginning of the Fall Term to become a Certified Peer Educator, Peer Listeners will also educate students in dorm and day student talks on wellness topics like transition, stress management, self-care, healthy habits, and more. 

“I’m hoping that the program can help kids have meaningful conversations and let kids find bridges where they need them and really help to educate kids on wellness issues. It normalizes conversations around physical health, mental health, tapping into resources that are already here, and helping kids be resources for one another,” said Dolan.

William Situ ’22 believes that the Peer Listener Program will be a workable solution to the stressful environment of Andover, given the stronger bond formed between students compared to adults. 

“Given the stressful nature of Andover, it is very important to have such a support system to help those who are in need. Students are much more likely to share their struggles and troubles with a peer because it usually involves less pressure when compared to sharing with an adult or a counselor in [Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center,]” said Situ.

However, Giselle Jones-Mollod ’22 believes that the Peer Listener program might add to the stress that Andover students already face. 

“How are minimally trained teenage students, already coping with the stressors of Andover, supposed to offer more support to students than actual counselors? Should this responsibility and labor not fall on the qualified mental health professionals, all grown adults, who have spent years training to listen to students? If Andover has the budget to build another athletic center, it seems like they should have the budget to hire more counselors,” said Jones-Mollod. 

According to Ellie Cho ’23, the importance and merit of this program will depend on the ability for peer listeners to serve as a bridge between the adults and students as well as being able to empathize more with the rest of the school. 

Being in a similar age group, the peer listeners would give different kinds of help that adults may not offer. Healthy habits, stress management, and forming/maintaining relationships are all things the people around me and I sometimes struggle with, especially during a global pandemic So I’m happy to hear a program will be dedicated to these topics. I’m curious to see how exactly the logistics or structure of the program will work out, and how it can be made so that it will be accessible and approachable to all, so I’m looking forward to seeing the development of it,” wrote Cho in an email to The Phillipian

Jeter hopes that the Peer Listener program would encourage trust-building within the Andover community and normalize the practice of reaching out when in need of support. 

“I really hope that this program would not only cultivate trust amongst peers and that if you go to a peer, they can also help you reach out to a trusted adult on campus, because we really want to build upon that sense of community,” said Jeter.