Peer Education Project rolls successfully along

Peer Education Project educators are continuing to provide an important source of support for younger pupils at UCS Hampstead, as a scheme now in its second year at the Senior School equips students with the tools to safeguard their mental health and that of fellow pupils.

The Peer Education Project is a secondary school-based educational programme offered by the Mental Health Foundation that gives young people the skills and knowledge needed to look after both themselves and their peers. Here at UCS, it is spearheaded by the Director of Wellbeing, Bimba Kumarasinghe, who leads a team of 16 volunteers from the Year 12 (also known as ‘Transitus’) student body.

“My vision is to empower older [Transitus] pupils to build connections with younger pupils and raise the awareness of mental health,” explains Miss Kumarasinghe. “Some of the best people to teach about youth mental health are young people themselves, so by training Transitus pupils to deliver mental health lessons, hopefully we are able to break down some of the barriers young people have when being taught such topics by adults.”

The programme follows the same pattern each year, so like last year when it was first rolled out at UCS, Year 12 pupils were invited to apply to become ‘Peer Educators’; those selected underwent a rigorous training period, before the newly qualified educators set about delivering a series of five weekly lessons to Year 7 (aka ‘Entry’) pupils.

Andrew Wilkes, Deputy Head (Pastoral), and Stewart FitzGerald, Assistant Head (Head of Middle School), have also played important roles in organising the 2022/23 programme.

“The lessons have been creative, inventive and informative,” says Miss Kumarasinghe. “The Mental Health Foundation provides brilliant resources including handbooks for the peer educators and workbooks for the Year 7s. The younger pupils benefit from topics being discussed with them by older students rather than by teachers – they are able to talk openly about some very important issues.”

If the project’s first edition was a “phenomenal learning experience for both the Entry, Transitus and myself”, Miss Kumarasinghe has been similarly delighted by the effort and dedication of this year’s Year 12 volunteers who have “carved out the time to invest into the younger pupils at the school”. Equally, the Year 7s’ openness in “welcoming the older students and engaging in the activities” has been a real boon.

In a school that encourages a genuine rapport between its various constituents, relationships are proving key to the successful implementation of the project. “Strong relationships have been built between the Entry and Transitus,” concludes the Director of Wellbeing, “as we have raised awareness and understanding of mental health among both year groups.”

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