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Positive peer pressure

On Feb. 22, Bailey Elementary third graders sat at attention listening carefully to their teachers at the front of the room.

The teachers however, were high school students and they were teaching students about fairness.

"The elementary students really look up to older students - it's almost like a big brother, big sister type of situation," Bailey Elementary Principal Candace Hofstad said. "They are their peers, so it's not an adult telling them these things.

"They almost seemed to be mesmerized by the older kids' presentation that information to them."

For the past three weeks, East Ridge and Park high school students have been visiting Bailey Elementary classrooms, grades 2-5, as part of the Washington County 4-H Youth Teaching Youth program.

Youth teaching youth

Even though the Youth Teaching Youth program has been around for more than 20 years with Dakota County 4-H, the Washington County program is only in its third year.

"It took a lot of time to make sure we had the right kids," said Amber Shanahan, program coordinator.

The program first started in the Stillwater Area School District and then came to District 833 last year when Park students visited Pine Hill Elementary School.

This is the first year for Bailey Elementary and East Ridge.

The way Youth Teaching Youth is that high school students will teach three one hour classes over a two month period on a variety of topics.

"We look for a need of what the school districts are looking for," Shanahan said. "It keeps growing and changing with the needs."

The lessons are taught through a variety of ways including stories, activities, games, presentations and groups.

"It keeps the kids engaged, which is really key," Hofstad said.

Growing good characters

At Bailey Elementary, the curriculum focuses on character building skills.

In second grade, students learn trustworthiness, respect and caring; third grade students learn responsibility, fairness and citizenship.

"The social aspect of school is just as important as the academic aspect," Hofstad said. "It's so important for those students to be reminded of and learn those lifelong skills. They can become better human beings in the end."

The fourth and fifth grade classes take a slightly different approach by teaching students about Internet safety, "netiquette" and cyber bullying.

"Because it is so accessible, students don't know what the etiquette is for that," Hofstad said. "They need to understand that there are some risks to those media."

Looking up to their peers

Both Hofstad and Shanahan said the biggest benefit to the Youth Teaching Youth program is that the elementary students are hearing these important life lessons from their peers.

"Hearing not to bully and to be a good overall good person doesn't mean a whole lot when you hear it from an adult, but when you hear it from somebody who is considered your peer and kind of cool it makes a huge difference," Shanahan said. "The students listen and they grasp it and they take what they hear and run with it."

Shanahan said Youth Teaching Youth is also beneficial for the high school students in that it helps heighten their self-esteem.

Hofstad said she would like to look at incorporating Youth Teaching Youth into the school's curriculum every year.

"I want to see how we continue this through the years," she said. "It's another avenue for kids to see that this is important stuff."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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