Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

It is common knowledge that high school students often struggle with feeling stressed and overwhelmed; and when they do, they typically seek out friends for advice and support.

On Nov. 1 and 2, 40 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students who were nominated by their peers, along with four faculty members, were invited to participate in the 7th annual Peer Outreach retreat. The retreat was co-facilitated by six senior student members.

The goal of the Peer Outreach program is to tap into the informal helping network that exists among teenagers by providing extensive training to those who are already acting as helpers to their friends.

Over the course of two days, through large and small group activities and discussions, we focus on the important aspects of a supportive helping relationship; we teach the skills necessary to recognize when a peer is struggling; we discuss the issues that might be too much to handle and how to seek out appropriate adult support; we examine the social culture at MVRHS; and we discuss the importance of taking care of oneself while being a support to others.

To date, this program has trained 296 former and current MVRHS students and currently there are 98 members at MVRHS. Having this number of students trained in our building builds a stronger, more accepting and safer environment for the overall student population.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Alexandra MM Gagnon Foundation, which generously awards MVHRS a yearly grant to support this program. This year’s retreat was especially rewarding because for the first time it was held at Alex’s Place at the YMCA. We are looking forward to continuing the collaboration between these two programs.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the 40 new peer outreach students and the faculty members who participated, as well as the six seniors who facilitated the retreat. The combination of information these students received, the skills they develop and their overall involvement allows the Peer Outreach program to provide a comprehensive approach to help our students help each other.

Amy Lilavois, Tisbury

The author is the school adjustment counselor at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.