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 6 to 8. At each school, students who participate are divided into small groups by age, with no more than 10 to 12-14 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?
There are two options: self-selection or full-class participation.
Self-selection: Students choose to enroll in the program. A FIA team visits classrooms to introduce the peer support program, spending 15 - 20 minutes to explain what’s involved. We discuss the role stress plays in our lives and the idea of a small group working together over 8 weeks where sharing, confidentiality, respect and mutual support are the underpinnings of group. Students who indicate personal interest are given a consent form for guardians to sign and return. Students are then placed in groups of approximately 10-14 students and the program is scheduled to begin.
Full-class participation: Classes who will benefit most from the program are selected by administration and/or teachers. Each class is then divided into two or possibly three smaller groups with a max of 14 students in each. Groups will run simultaneously, each with a team of two trained FIA facilitators. One group usually stays in the classroom while the other group(s) use alternative space in the school (library, resource room). The teacher can use this as prep time but will remain available if needed.
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 6 to Grade 8 are eligible to enroll in the program.
What role do the school’s administrators, staff, and teachers play?
They have a minimal role! Of course we find that the program runs best when principal and teachers clearly understand how the program works and its benefits for their school and students. The classroom teacher’s role is important in supporting students’ participation and encouraging positive involvement. We find it easier when schools designate an individual as our contact person for the program (e.g., a teacher, vice-principal or social worker) who can help remind kids to attend sessions, let the FIA team know about upcoming school events or field trips and be a liaison for the program to run smoothly and effectively for everyone involved. If schools choose full-class participation, additional space will be needed to accommodate smaller groups which administration will help with prior to start of the series.
Are the facilitators qualified to run the program?
Many 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. All facilitators are trained within Friendship in Action. 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, thanks to our generous donors.