Students sit down with peer counselors

Student’s interest in Peer Counseling increases following the COVID-19 pandemic


Nicole Macgaffey

BVH students are able to get one-on-one support from a peer counselor. These sessions are confidential and give students a private outlet provided by the peer counselor.

Nadia Martinez, Podcast Manager

Cool air-conditioned breeze, bright posters on the walls, and friendly smiles greet students as they sit down. This can be seen in Bonita Vista High’s (BVH) Peer Counseling coordinator, Laura Lowery’s room. Her classroom is a place that has become increasingly important for students emerging from distance learning and facing the stress of coming back onto campus.

Before Lowery and Peer Support Group coordinator,  Kalie Espinoza took over the program, Counselor Brian Smith was responsible for it. They have been running the program for 9 years now. 

“I did teach the course a couple [of] years back. I also [had] connected with Mr. Smith and I started helping out with the support groups and some of the other functions of the club. When he retired, Ms. Lowery and I kind of took on the task of continuing peer counseling. We’ve been working together for a few years now,” Espinoza said.

Peer Counseling is a second-period class offered to students of all grade levels at BVH. The program offers three basic services. The first provides one-on-one support, where students have private listening sessions. The second is conflict mediation, where students sit down with a peer counselor to discuss and resolve some of their struggles. The third service available for students is support groups, where students meet with other students in a safe environment to share some of their struggles.

The program has a wide range of different topics that are separated into support groups:  Academic Stress, LGBTQ+, Self-Care, Emotional First Aid, Family, Relationship Goals, Grief and Loss, Boys-to-Men, Empowering Young Women and Spanish Speakers. Students can choose a topic that meets their needs in terms of what they are struggling with. Students can schedule these meetings ahead of time by scanning the QR code located on the posters hung throughout BVH. All sessions always begin with a confidentiality statement. Which is ‘what said in the group stays in group’ with the exception of the three H’s; if a student’s being harmed by someone else, if a student is harming someone else, or if a student is harming themselves, those are the only three times that we break confidentiality.

“ We [the coordinators] want students to feel comfortable and safe sharing, opening up, and being vulnerable. So, we make sure everybody understands whatever is shared in the support group session stays there, and is not repeated,” Lowery said. “I want students to know that there are our teachers and administrators who care about them as a whole person, not just academically, but emotionally, socially, and mentally.”

Currently, the coordinators are anticipating more student enrollment because of the mental toll coming back on campus after more than a year can have on students. Although groups have been formed since the start of September, Lowery and Espinoza still encourage students who may be dealing with academic stresses, interpersonal relationship troubles, COVID-19 worries, or anything else to join and seek support. This is due to the fact that many students who have returned to school have had academic stress, interpersonal relationship issues, COVID-19 concerns, and other variety of issues. 

“Coming back to campus has been such a complicated thing for so many students; [however,] there were plenty of students who were excited to come back. A lot of students have also felt the stress of being back on campus and expected to do a whole lot more [of school work]. I’m hoping that [peer] counseling can be a place for students to decompress, slow down and have someone to talk to,” Espinoza said. 

Lowery expressed that there have been a lot of students who, upon transitioning back to on-campus, have to worry about fitting in socially. Social interactions during the pandemic had been “put on pause,” and now students are having to navigate the social struggles of being a teenager and dealing with friends, romances, and classmates.

“I’m hearing a lot of students talking about a sense of feeling overwhelmed with our schedule of back-to-back classes, and also the sense of constantly being around people. Over 2000 students on the campus is a drastic difference to being at home alone by yourself. So there is a sense of overstimulation,” Lowery said. 

Peer support group attendee and senior Noor Alramadan started attending the Academic Stress support group over the pandemic because she felt isolated and had previously thrived off human interaction. Though, after a certain period of time of learning online, she became increasingly tired. As the coordinators kept promoting the program, she had decided to sign up. 

“I felt lonely. Like most people, I knew my upperclassmen years would be the most exciting because of extracurriculars, and having that taken away was sad. Then seeing the news of people being sick and seeing people go out was confusing for me,” Alramadan said. “I was isolated, but I was able to learn to take a pause in life to breathe, relax and that was a positive. [Peer Counseling] helped me because I was able to connect with all the students in the call.”

The increasing number of BVH students who feel stressed and overwhelmed after coming back on campus pushed the coordinators even further to promote this student resource. Lowery and Espinoza feel as though this program is essential, especially during pandemic times, for students to reach out and talk about their mental health.

“Having some grace and patience with ourselves and [letting] ourselves know that it’s okay to not always work so hard. You need to have some social time, family time, and some physical exercise. All of those things are important, and to have a balance is something that a lot of students struggle with. ” Lowery said.