Twenty-four 8th graders and twenty 7th graders at Coweeman Middle School in the Kelso School District have banded together to form a group of do-gooders known as the Cougar Ambassadors. Led by the school’s counselor, Allison Baxter, the ambassadors were selected by other students and Coweeman staff as supportive, encouraging and influential.
A long-time dream of Baxter’s, the Cougar Ambassadors is a new peer helping program that integrates the 40 Developmental Assets; which are research-based, positive experiences and qualities that influence young people’s development, helping them become caring, responsible, and productive adults.
“I’m a firm believer in what students are capable of,” said Baxter. “They are change agents. And in this process, they’re gaining skills like empathy and active listening in very practical ways.”
The ambassadors are broken into three groups: Peer Mediators, Natural Helpers and Change Agents.
The program has just been in place since January, and already the Peer Mediators have mediated nearly 20 student conflicts. The problem-solving ambassadors are very clear that their job is to remain impartial, listen and ask questions that help the students in conflict come up with their own resolution.
“My favorite part is getting to help people,” said mediator Mya Soto. A sentiment echoed by many on the team. In the process of helping others, these ambassadors feel they have become more mature and compassionate and have fewer conflicts themselves.
The Natural Helpers’ role is to make students feel welcome and like they belong. They go out of their way to look for people sitting alone or those who appear to have something weighing on them. They practice the Smile-Shake-Share method: smile and say hello; shake hands and introduce yourself; share by starting a conversation.
Helper Jandlynn said she knows it makes a difference, that kids leave the interaction “with their head held higher. It makes their day.”
The Change Agents generate positivity and encouragement through inspiring posters and events.
“We change what needs to be changed,” said Agent Carson Thomson-Terell. “Like negative attitudes and emotions. We make school more fun.”
Although the group is really just beginning, they’re already making a difference for others. And they’re feeling the rewards. Diego Juarez smiled and said, “I feel happier helping people.”