Savannah-Chatham County Public School System

New Positive Peer Influencer Program Launched in Savannah-Chatham Schools

Published on: 3/19/2024

A partnership between the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, The Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire and the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team aims to help teenager make good choices.  The three organizations have recently joined forces to launch the Positive Peer Influencer Program.  The pilot program recently trained a select group of 60 students at New Hampstead High School, Alfred E. Beach High School, Islands High School and Herschel V. Jenkins High School to serve as mentors for local middle school students. The Positive Peer Influencer program officially launched at Myers Middle School in Savannah on March 19, 2024.

“We seek to develop happy, healthy, resilient kids," said Kurt Hetager, Chief Public Affairs and Administrative Services Officer for Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools. “Middle school is really a crossroads for our students. There's a great deal of potential for certain influences that can lead to negative behaviors at this age. We must work to arm students with tools that strengthen their ability to reject negative influences and make good decisions that will set them up for a positive future."

The Meditation Center of the Coastal Empire took the lead on developing the Positive Peer Influencer training program, conducting special training sessions at local high schools throughout January and February. The Mediation Center provided local high school students with information, strategies and Positive Peer Influencer branded lanyards, bracelets and swag items to hand out at local middle schools.

“The Positive Peer Influencer Program has the potential to impact middle school students as they are faced with difficult, potentially life-altering decisions," said Jill Cardenas, executive director of The Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire. “This pilot program empowers local high school students to make a positive impact on local middle school students."

Positive Peer Influencers will model good decision making, speak with students about how to navigate peer pressure, discuss the potential consequences of bad decisions and offer advice about how to make healthy choices. The goal of the program is to help local teens learn how to handle social and emotional pressures and to build a relationship with an older student that will carry over when the middle schooler arrives at high school.   

Positive Peer Influencers will discuss the dangers of tobacco, vaping as well as fentanyl, which is involved in 84% of teen overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Positive Peer Influencers will deliver a presentation sharing facts about fentanyl, opioids and other dangerous drugs, encouraging local middle school students to “choose to refuse."

“The whole premise is that middle school students will accept the message better from a high school student than from an adult," said Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team Director Michael G. Sarhatt. “We want to educate the kids about the dangers of fentanyl and how easily it can kill you. We know that these Positive Peer Influencers will be our future leaders. They've chosen to be out front and to help teach middle school students to make good decisions and to give them different scenarios to practice when faced with peer pressure."

The State Board of Education requires all schools in grades K-12 to provide instruction regarding alcohol, tobacco, vapor products and other drug use on an annual basis. The Positive Peer Influencer program is aligned with the Georgia Department of Education's Health and Physical Education Program Standards.

The ultimate goal is to scale up the Positive Peer Influencers pilot program and to replicate the model in all SCCPSS high schools and middle schools. This innovative new program is designed to encourage students to have courageous conversations and to create conditions that allow students to be influenced in constructive ways.

“We're extremely encouraged by the enthusiasm of our inaugural group of Positive Peer Influencers and can't wait to see them in action in local middle schools," Cardenas said. “This program truly has the potential to transform lives and to encourage young people to make thoughtful, healthy decisions that will last a lifetime."

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Click to learn more about the Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire.

Click to learn more about the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team.​

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