Students pioneer support group


Claire Grunewald

Students sort through information packets given to them at their third, peer counseling training session. The new support group will offer students an outlet for talking with their peers in times of need.

Support can be given in a variety of ways, and, starting this school year, students will have a new outlet in times of need.

This new outlet will be known as The Breakfast Club and will be led by nine certified peer counselors. Meetings are currently scheduled to meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning before school in the TV Production room, although the location may be altered. Students will have the opportunity to go to these meetings and talk one-on-one with a peer counselor. There will also be a large group discussion every other Thursday.

According to peer counseling instructor Sue Lichtfuss, the role of the counselors isn’t to give advice or to fix their peers’ problems, but to be there and to listen.

Lichtfuss is the program coordinator for the mobile crisis team of Harford County and got in touch with JC when she came with the Yellow Ribbon Program in the spring of 2015.

“[A group of students] approached me […] and said that they were really interested in suicide prevention and they were hoping that they could start something here, and that they wanted to have a peer counseling program,” Lichtfuss said.

One of those students was senior Parker Day. According to Day, her classmate Conrad Gagnon presented the idea at their junior retreat in the fall, and then she took initiative in getting the group started.

Claire Grunewald
Confused by the calling she feels to become a nun, senior Faith Ensor (right) talks through her “problem” with peer counselor Brooke Vogel (left). Role playing such as this was a major learning tool for the peers in their training sessions.

“I wanted to start a group like this because retreat made me realize we all have problems to a degree, and we need something in the school that welcomes students into an environment where it is safe to talk about what is going on in their lives,” Day said.

Throughout the rest of the school year, Day, with the help of fellow senior Kishan Patel, talked with their peers who may be interested, guidance counselor Carol Heflin, and various other teachers and administrators to try to make The Breakfast Club become a reality.

According to Day, the idea was faced with enthusiasm, but also many obstacles and worries. “[There was worry] because there wasn’t a legal psychologist that could attend the group, which is why we now have peer counselors,” Day said.

Heflin helped Day and Patel throughout these obstacles by being their bridge with the administration. “There were just so many questions. I don’t think [the administration] saw it as a liability, I think they wanted it to work, but they just didn’t know how to get there. It sounded like a good idea, but, oh my God, it was scary,” Heflin said.

However, Day and Patel worked with Heflin to figure out the best possible solution, and Lichtfuss presented one that day last spring. After four two and a half hour-long training sessions with Lichtfuss and Heflin, nine seniors are now certified peer counselors  and will be available to the entire student body for support.

Heflin and Lichtfuss will both be available for support as well, for both the students and the counselors. Heflin is, as she calls it, the “on-site” person in case of any emergencies or problems. Lichtfuss will be the official clinical supervisor of all of the peer counselors, and will make routine visits to check on the group.

“The general idea is just to let people know there are students there for them, who want to hear them and, be there for them, and that’s what we are,” Day said.

The idea is finally a reality. “I couldn’t be happier,” Heflin said.

Claire Grunewald is the Print Chief for The Patriot and