Have to share a good news story with you. I am in my third school year of working with the Thorpe2Thorpe Peer Leaders and their advisor, Peggy Phelps. As usual, I am greeted with hello’s, handshakes and hugs from staff and students as I navigate the building. Loved starting my day like this.
On this particular day, five Peer Leaders were taking the lead in working with all the freshmen and some upper classmen in small groups. After doing a couple connection activities with the groups, they led their fellow students in a powerful dialogue about loss. Loss of a loved one passing, loss of friendship when the friend is not acting like a friend and break-ups. The Peer Leaders were honest, authentic and vulnerable as they shared. The power of the dialogue was not in their loss, but how they found support in others when they were struggling. They shared and listened to stories of support and named staff members and students at Pine Ridge H.S., family, and community members as supportive people. The Peer Leaders discussed how they are available and willing to support other students and connect them to adults that will support them. Peggy and I were in the gym with the students but stood away from the group. All the leading was done by the Peer Leaders.
It is with permission that I share this story. Why do I share? To let you know the impact that positive and supported peers have on each other. After years of dealing with students taking their lives, Pine Ridge High School had zero suicides during the 2017/18 school year. This still holds true. Peggy mentioned how suicidal referrals are down as students are being seen sooner. Students are seeking support for the peers. This success is due to staff at the school, family members, community members and mental health counselors working together, supporting the students when they bring concerns forward and continually working on strengthening their bonds with students. And the Peer Leaders creating and establishing a norm that is all about supportive environments and using their voice to support others as I witnessed in the groups. This success took time and much energy on the part of many people. Everyone understood this was not a quick fix but a process of establishing an environment of support and safety.
There is a positive feel and vibe in the school this year. It is great to see. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of this school community. I am thankful knowing there are so many amazing people serving others.
Our first year of the Governor 2 Governor program had its ups and downs. Just like getting any program started, there were some logistics that had to be tinkered, revamped, and changed altogether. In the end, I can say that we made a heck of a difference for the students at Riggs. We don’t have a ton of numbers to show the success we had, but we have stories; we have memories; we have relationships.
Rather than spit numbers out, I’d rather share stories and memories from mentors that illustrate what impact Governor 2 Governor had at T.F. Riggs High School in 2015-2016.
Entering the Spanish classroom for the fourth year in a row did not seem out of the ordinary on August 20, 2015. I walked into the room, claimed my normal seat, and greeted my classmates and teacher with a mundane “Buenos Días”. Same desk, same people, same teacher, same greeting, it seemed as if a new school year had never even started. The bell rang and we settled down, awaiting our instructions. Just then, the door opened and in walked a student I had never seen before. He was shy and immediately blushed while he hurried to a chair in the far corner of the room as the teacher introduced him to our class. Because Spanish was his first language, his English was a little weak. Though his Spanish was excellent, he rarely spoke, maybe once or twice. One day in G2G, he was in the class we took for an activity. You could see he was having fun participating in the games. Throughout the duration of the first semester, his involvement in Spanish class increased. He answered questions, did his presentations, and, occasionally, made jokes. Though his increased involvement may have resulted from him becoming more comfortable with the school, I believe G2G had an impact on making him feel welcome. The G2G program helps not only freshmen, but also new and existing students, to become acclimated to a friendly environment.
G2G has benefited me very much. Not only have I got to meet new people that I may not have ever met without this class, but I also have gotten the chance to step out of my comfort zone and help the freshmen in a way I know many people would not without G2G. This class has not only changed me, but it has changed the whole school. I know I would not be the same person I am now without this class.
Now for some time I have wanted to be a teacher, but wasn’t sure I could handle some of the attitudes of the kids. As I have been working with the students, I see that what I really want to do is be a teacher and make an impact on kids.
I love being able to put others before myself; it’s a great talent to have and G2G has helped me out with that tremendously. Also, the great feeling of when your peers that you have helped out in times of need say thank you to you in the halls is unbelieveable, and I feel like I have just done a great thing.
Being a part of G2G has changed my life forever. G2G has made me realize that what I want to do for an occupation is be a teacher. G2G has helped me find this deep desire to want to help and care about others.
Along with impacting and benefiting the school, G2G has benefited me in more ways than I expected. G2G has taught me that everyone struggles with their own battles. Everyday students walk into the school and have something weighing heavy on their heart. G2G has taught to me to be more focused on others instead of myself because you never know what someone else is going through. Having G2G during fourth period, it breaks up my day and reminds me to make sure I am practicing the main thing I have learned in high school, loving others and being there for them. This is something I have always struggled doing so I am very grateful for G2G encouraging me to practice this every day.
G2G has made me a more well-rounded person. I have learned to consider circumstances before casting judgment. I have been able to be a part of the school in a way that I haven’t been before. G2G has opened doors for me to become a better person. We have enabled a way for freshman to “get out of class” while actually learning lessons on bullying, using support groups, and balancing their busy schedules. This program has made freshmen build those networks of support via teachers, staff, or mentors.
Governor 2 Governor has really helped me try to become a more outwardly focused person. I do have a bad habit of caring too much about myself and my own reputation. Honestly, I care way too much about social media than I should as well. Ever since Jon came and spoke to us, I have tried to listen and let other people do more talking than me. He really opened my eyes to the fact that other people have just as many small problems in their day that they want to talk to someone about as I do, and I need to make others a priority in my life.
Governor to Governor has definitely allowed me to approach groups of people, I would never have been able to ask freshmen to join the group activities prior to me joining Governor to Governor. Even during activities I know I would have been the kid sitting outside of the group and not participating, and it’s extraordinary to be the one trying to encourage the members of that group of children to join in the activities. I have struggle with physical contact in the past, and Governor to Governor activities have been a huge help in getting over that fear. Moving around, high fiving, giving handshakes, and other things we do in the activities have a huge effect on my self-esteem.
I think that G2G has really help develop a passion in me for helping people. It was already there, but tutoring has really given it a chance to grow. This is a stressful time in my life, and helping my mentee really helps me to put things back into perspective. Honestly, I probably get more from him than he does from me. Working with him and helping him to do better makes me happy and proud and I really need that in this rather depressing year. When he succeeds, I feel like I succeed to and it gives me a rush of happy endorphins.
Governor to Governor has benefited my life totally. I never really felt connected with my school until I joined G2G. I was the kid that did well in school, was nice to everyone, and was close with my class, but never felt that I could be friends with upperclassman or underclassman. Then when I joined G2G, I felt much more connected with my peers of all ages at Riggs.
In high school, I have participated in many activities. From athletics to student council to the Future Business Leaders of America, the knowledge and leadership experiences have been extensive. Nothing, however, has been quite the same dynamic as Governor 2 Governor has been. I suppose that is the first way that G2G has benefited me. Most of the time, when serving as a leader, the common goal is a fundraiser, or a community service project—something tangible. With this group, the goal is not as easy to pin down. Besides the responsibility of leading by example, we have started to teach kids how to get through high school and succeed in both a scholarly and a social sense. This different method of leadership is unique in comparison to what I have done in the past, and additionally has added a new facet to leadership as I know it.
I have been so privileged to have been the adviser of Governor 2 Governor to T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre. This program will affect eternity. We will truly never know how far the influence goes. Thank you to Tim McGowan at Rapid City Central for making all this possible. I truly hope that every school finds a way to incorporate this program into their school. It will provide so many positive ripples throughout not only the school, but each student’s life during and after high school.
Governor 2 Governor Peer Mentoring Adviser
Terri Johnson in Pierre seems to be off to a great start. I wanted to share a story she shared with me today.
Jane Doe... not sure if you remember her at training. She is a SPED student, very shy and she came to me before school wondering if she is G2G material. She felt she would not be able to help tutor anyone as her own skills are lower than most her peers and she does not see herself as a leader. But I told her she can do many things to make a difference in our school for the better outside of tutoring or leading activities.
Well after the first week of school I ran into one of my 8th graders who struggled last year with a lot of issues, including depression, self harm, and suicidal thoughts. I asked her how she was getting by, in the conversation I brought up lunch (as I remembered that is one thing that our 9th graders commented as being a positive thing about high school compared to middle school). She said she hadn't eaten lunch all week because she was too scared to go into the lunch room. She had been hiding in the bathroom through lunch everyday. I tried to convince her to come to the lunch room to eat, but she truly had too much anxiety about it.
I asked Jane Doe if she would be willing to go to the lunch room to get lunch for this girl and eat lunch with her everyday in the SPED classroom. We later found out there was another student who was having the same anxiety about the lunchroom, so for two weeks the three of them ate lunch together in the classroom. They learned they all had a lot in common. After two weeks of Jane Doe picking up lunch and taking it to the girls in the class room she talked them into eating in the lunchroom, she found them a table, and they now eat every day together in the lunchroom with the other girls even getting their own trays and going through the line with everyone else (believe me that first week that would have never happened). I wish Jane Doe knew what a difference she has made in this girl's life... possibly even saved her life.
This is the power of Networks of Support!
We are making a daily difference :)
Keep doing great work Tim!
Sioux Falls Washington High School
I know it has taken me all summer to send this email to you and that is because I was trying to come up with the right words to describe how much Cobbler 2 Cobbler affected my college career thus far. I was never the one being mentored in Cobbler 2 Cobbler, I was always the person mentoring. This program gave me the skills to lead other students not only academically, but socially. Because of Cobbler 2 Cobbler I was chosen to be an International Student Mentor at my college as well as a writing tutor. Cobbler 2 Cobbler helped me in so many ways that I will never be able to fully describe everything it has done for me. However, I can say that it is a wonderful program that I hope touches the lives of more Cobblers for years to come. Thank you Mr. McGowan for everything you did for me during my four short years at Central and thank you for giving me the skills that landed me in Hawaii.
"Be the change you want to see in the World."
This is Taylor’s first time serving as a director for Networks of Support. Taylor grew up in Rapid City, SD where she attended Rapid City Central High School and was one of the first participants in Central’s Cobbler to Cobbler mentoring program.
She has spent the last four years at Stanford University working towards her BA in Native American Studies with honors in Education. Her studies focused on the representation of Native Americans in US high school history textbooks used in the South Dakota school system.
Over the last few years she has collaborated with various programs through her university, some of which include Rural America Initiatives and Partnership with Native Americans.
Taylor is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and currently positioned as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Boys and Girls Club of Rosebud in which she serves as their Resource Development Specialist and Cultural Education Coordinator.
Taylor has seen firsthand how Networks of Support has helped the community within her own high school and truly believes in the support it provides to students; by being directly involved she hopes to help many more communities.
My leadership experience comes from a program at my high school called Cobbler to
Cobbler (abbreviated to C2C). C2C is a program where students from every part of the school come together to assist in various ways for different goals in the school and the community. I was specifically involved more with C2C mentors, which is a group of students who go into the freshman wing of our school and help out. This help can vary from assisting freshman students in understanding something with the class, to large group activities with an ulterior message in every portion of our demonstrations, with an overall motive of building and providing connections for the freshman students. Our program has provided different presentations all around the state due to the outstanding success and is one of a kind with nowhere in the nation doing what we do.
I was invited to become a part of this program due to my academic success and great
peer reviews. My involvement has been for almost two years now and I am looked at as a
senior leader amongst the group of mentors. Remembering how hard it was to connect with
people during my freshman year and my love for helping people are the reasons why I
became a leader in this area. Along with the mentor side, C2C also runs a "Safe Halloween"
where parents can bring their students to our high school to play games and win candy in a
safe environment. C2C is also a large part of the help provided with the various "Special
Olympics" that take place throughout the year, where we assist with special and handicapped people participating in different fun activities and make them feel great about themselves. Not only the school, but also the community involvement that takes place, makes me proud to show my leadership by being a part of Cobbler to Cobbler.
All the things that we do in Cobbler to Cobbler have influenced my goals in various
ways. There is no better feeling than to do something for someone else out of the goodness in your heart and to have that person acknowledge and thank you for what you have done. To be my age and feel like what you do can actually make a difference in your community, is not something everyone gets to experience. Cobbler to Cobbler has done me a great favor and influenced my goals by bringing to light how great it is to help others and the impact you can make by helping others. This leadership experience has affected my goals with wanting to not only positively impact people around me, but the community in general.
It was the night before the first day of my freshman year of high school. Most kids were very excited and eager to begin this new chapter of their lives. Nervous and anxious, but couldn’t wait to see what the next four years would bring. I was no exception, until the unthinkable happened. One of my closest friends completed suicide that night. And instead of being able to enjoy my first day of high school, at fourteen, I was grieving the tragic death of a friend. I took her death extremely hard; I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. I soon found my support through several Support Networks. These changed my life dramatically and gave me the strength I needed to cope with her death and rediscover all the good things in my life I had been blessed with.
The first major Support I turned to was Family Support. My family always has, and always will mean everything to me, and when I was feeling lost and hopeless and trying to make sense of the entire situation, they went above and beyond to be there for me. I know it was extremely hard for my parents to watch me have to go through losing a friend at that young of an age, and I knew they couldn’t make the hurt go away, but it seemed like they knew exactly what to say to help slowly heal the pain I was feeling. Sometimes talking wasn’t even necessary, but just them being there holding and hugging me, meant the world. I honestly don’t know where I would be today without the unconditional love and support from my family in every situation and obstacle I face.
Another main Support I relied on was Positive Friends. Losing one of my friends to suicide made me cherish all my friends and the time we spent together more than ever. The first week after my friend’s death, every night we were at someone’s house, kids and parents, just hanging out and being surrounded with people we loved and cared about. This was a huge help in the healing process for me. When I first found out about the death, my immediate thoughts were to isolate myself and that I just wanted to be left alone. Instead, we all got together and spent that time with each other. This showed me what amazing, positive friends I had in my life and that we would always be there for each other, and we could make it through anything.
Healthy Activities also became of huge Support for me. After my friend’s death, I joined the dance team at Central High School, the Cobbler Coeds. I have always had a passion for dancing; it gave me an outlet and a way to just escape from everything else I was feeling. Being a member of the Coeds gave me a feeling of being needed, and that I was important to the team. Over the three years I was on the team, the other girls became somewhat of a second family to me. We were constantly together and I made incredible new friendships. Cobbler Coeds was without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences I had in high school.
Over my high school career, Networks of Support has been the main support system in my life. Family Support, Positive Friends, and Healthy Activities were the main ones I focused on, but I also had a good balance of the other strengths in my life. I unfortunately went through a very difficult time to discover all the Support I had surrounding me; but now having all the strengths in my life, it just continues to increase the strong connection I have with peers and caring adults. I think it is extremely important for everyone to have a balance of Supports in their lives. It is life-changing.