Counselors examining youth program on emotions

June 17, 1999|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

At a time of heightened concern about youth violence, Baltimore County social workers and school counselors came together yesterday to preview a nationally used program that helps young people build stronger relationships by understanding their emotions.

About 60 Baltimore County representatives learned about the philosophy of PEERS (Practical Exercises Enriching Relationship Skills), which teaches young people how to solve conflicts by coping with stress, communicating effectively and managing anger.

Since the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., people no longer question the need for such programs but instead are looking for the best method, said Meg Haycraft, trainer for PEERS, which began in Illinois.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the June 17 edition of the Sun incorrectly reported that Roland Park Country School and St. Paul's School will use a conflict-resolution curriculum known as PEERS next school year. The schools will hold workshops or retreats featuring skills taught in the PEERS program, but PEERS will not be part of their curricula.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"The culture now is really, really hungering for it," she said during a break in the session, sponsored by the school system's guidance and counseling office and the Relationship Enrichment Center, a Towson group.

PEERS is run by a nonprofit agency based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which teaches adults how to develop healthy relationships. The program is used in public schools in Illinois and Florida, said Dr. Seth Eisenberg, the agency's chief executive.

No Baltimore County public school has committed to using the program, but two local private schools, Roland Park Country School and St. Paul's School, will use PEERS next year.

Christy Crain, social worker at Baltimore Highlands Elementary School, went through the training on her own last year and taught one fifth-grade class the PEERS curriculum. Crain said she plans to continue the program next year, saying it helps students get in touch with their feelings and deal with conflict constructively.

"The message my kids learned is that their feelings are important," Crain said. "I think some kids feel they're not really heard, that adults don't care what their feelings are."

Rowland Savage, coordinator of the Office of Guidance and Counseling Services for Baltimore County public schools, said he is interested in using the program. But he said he has to consider the costs -- about $1,000 to $1,500 a day to train about 20 people and pay for materials. Training usually takes three to four days.

PEERS would complement the schools' Peer Helper and Peer Mediation programs, which help students solve problems with their classmates, Savage said.

Shirley Burnside, a social worker in Bensenville, Ill., who first used the program in 1995, testified to the benefits of the program. She said the students who participated in PEERS became more mature and emotionally centered.

"Kids love it," she said. "They can be open and learn about themselves."

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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