Modern High School for Girls has started a peer support group for senior students where they can talk to their friends and share their anxieties.
The group was started in October last year and has continued in the new academic session. The idea is for the girls to get a “free space to express themselves” and be hand-held by peers without the constant presence of supervising adults or teachers, the school said.
The group, for students of Classes IX to XII, meets online twice a week.
In the sessions, the students have discussed academic stress and online class, bereavement in the family, career choices, missing school and wanting to meet friends.
Teachers, too, can play a role. They can be advisors to guide the students when they seek their support.
“Children in the presence of peers express themselves freely, they can confide in and understand each other. They approach adults (teachers) when they know they need to seek their help but not have them breathing down their neck at all times,” said Devi Kar, the director of the school.
Some students have been trained by young people who work in the field of peer support, a school official said.
There is a group of student volunteers that conducts the sessions and they “prioritise anonymity”, a student said.
“We encourage open and frank conversations and primarily focus on talking. We let people speak out. Some of them talk about conflicts between parents or death in the family during the pandemic leading to sleepless nights. We do not preach or prescribe what they could do but suggest certain things that can be helpful,” said Srijoni Mitra, a Class XII student volunteer.
The advisor to the peer support group, Reena Sen, who is also a consultant of the school, said that “real empathy comes from peers”.
“All schools are dealing with adolescents but this is a huge step forward. No matter how invested adults are in the lives of children, real empathy comes from peers. As an adult, I try to be kind and compassionate to them but I am not in their shoes,” said Sen.
Challenges in the present pandemic are different from what many adults have gone through during their teenage years, Sen added.
Debadrita Basu, a Class XII student volunteer, said “we give four or five suggestions”.
“They come back to us and tell us if it has worked and if the situation worsens, we go to our advisor and she guides us. On some occasions parents are also involved,” she said.