Every school day, a group of Webster City High School students takes a class period to learn about the importance of serving others.
The peer helper class, taught by school counselor Lindsay Gelder, has 28 students, sophomores through seniors, that travel to places in the community almost every day to teach, socialize and help. Gelder said the most important lesson the class teaches students is empathy.
"It's important for students to just be around people that are different than them. Whenever we go to Friends Forever for the first time with a class, they might have no experience with people with disabilities and they're nervous about that. Just being comfortable with people is a life lesson," Gelder said.
Shelby Janssen reads a story to her friends at Pleasant View Elementary School. She is one of 28 students in the Webster City High School peer helper class.
Friends Forever is a day facility for people with mental and physical disabilities. Gelder said by the end of the semester, students that once found themselves uncomfortable at the facility say they love to visit. The class visits Friends Forever every Monday.
The class also visits Head Start and pairs up with a buddy early in the class. Students will do different activities with their buddies. Gelder said a recent activity had students work with their buddies to draw appropriate winter weather clothing on a stick figure. The class also pairs up with pre-kindergarten buddies at Pleasant View with a focus on students reading to their buddies. Peer helpers also visit local senior care centers. The class splits between Crestview, Windsor Manor and Southfield.
Service and self-led activities are also a part of the peer helper class. Gelder said many of the peer helper students are also teacher's aides and will go to area schools and do activities with kids or help those teachers as needed. Some do one-on-one work with students on reading. One student in the class has a volunteer project at Fuller Hall focused on cleaning, picking up trash and mulching. Gelder said last semester, the class had a similar project where they did mulching work for city owned trees.
The biggest difficulty of the class is the time constraint. Gelder said the class usually has about 30 minutes together once they arrive at their destination by bus. However, the class also meets once every two weeks in a classroom to touch on topics including depression and harassment. Gelder said the class explores the definition of these medical and social ailments and what students can do if it happens to them or someone else.
While the topics and activities of the class lend to students interested in becoming teachers or social workers, Gelder said there is a variety of interests and backgrounds in the class.
"I do have kids that just really like to be social or really want to be social workers or teachers, but anyone can take the class. I have kind of a wide variety of students that are in my class. It's always fun," Gelder said.
The peer helper class is a prerequisite for a peer internship class, which is focused strictly in schools and is two periods a day.