What is the Friendship in Action program?
Friendship in Action’s program, which is run in partnership with the Toronto District School Board, is called “Kids Helping Kids Manage Stress.” The peer-support program is designed to help students facing social, family, and academic pressures to identify their feelings, share their experiences, and develop strong emotional skills amongst a small, safe group of their peers.
What are the benefits of the program?
Researchers from York University found that students who participate in Friendship in Action’s program experience reduced levels of stress and a marked increase in levels of well-being. In addition, students who participate develop a better understanding of the sources of stress in their lives, better strategies to handle these stressors, and improved communication skills. Finally, enrolled students demonstrate increased empathy and kindness for others, often becoming more effective student leaders in the process. Meanwhile, teachers and administrators find that students who attend the program perform better in class, bully (or are bullied) less frequently in school and are sent to the office less often for discipline.
How old are the students who participate in the program?
Currently, the program is open to middle school students, age 10-14, in Grades 5 to 9. At each school, students who participate are divided into small groups by age, with no more than 10 to 12 per group.
How long is the program?
The program consists of eight, one-hour sessions that take place during an eight-week period in the fall, winter, or spring. The eight sessions take place during class time.
Who runs the sessions?
The sessions, while monitored by two trained adult facilitators from Friendship In Action, are run by the students, who establish group norms, practice their active listening skills, and create a safe space in which all participants feel comfortable sharing.
Where are the sessions held?
The sessions generally take place in a quiet classroom in the school, behind a closed door. Students are seated on chairs in a small circle during the session, where they can share their experiences openly and confidentially.
How do you determine which students should be enrolled in the program?
We don’t. The students choose to enroll in the program themselves. More specifically, before the program kicks off at a school, two Friendship in Action staff members will spend 10-15 minutes in selected classrooms, introducing the program to students and explaining the concepts of confidentiality, respect and mutual support that underpin the program. Students who indicate interest on a yes/no form are given a consent form for guardians to sign and return. The school’s principal then divides the self-selected students into groups of 10-12, informs the students’ respective teachers, and the program begins.
What schools are eligible to enroll in the program?
All public or independent schools that are located in the Greater Toronto Area and who serve students from Grade 5 to Grade 9 are eligible to enroll in the program.
What role do the school’s administrators, staff, and teachers play?
None, if they wish. However, we find that the program runs most smoothly when principals understand how the program works and its benefits, and are able to explain its importance to the school’s teachers and parents. In addition, teachers can play an important role by supporting the students participating in the program and allowing them to leave class if necessary. Finally, schools that designate a school contact for the program (e.g., a teacher, assistant principal or social worker), who can help to remind kids to attend the program and let the Friendship in Action team know about upcoming school trips, for example, can make the program run more smoothly and effectively for everyone involved.
Are the facilitators qualified to run the program?
Yes! All of the Friendship in Action facilitators are former or current licensed teachers, who have deep experience working with middle-school students and have been trained to guide youth through the peer support process. In addition, all of the facilitators have received clearance to work in the Toronto District School Board schools from Toronto Police Services.
How much does the program cost?
An eight-week series of one-hour sessions, as well as the initial introductory classroom visits, costs $1,500. Discounted fees are available for schools serving large populations of socio-economically disadvantaged youth.