PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A group of students from Pine-Richland High School won the statewide Jefferson Award for public service.
The Pine-Richland High School students are in the “Peer to Peer” organization. The students accepted the award in Washington, D.C. last spring. School counselor and Peer to Peer sponsor, Leslie Straub, won the national award for “Outstanding Faculty Advisor.”
The group began focusing on suicide prevention after five Pine-Richland students committed suicide in the past six years. “It’s just the little things we do to remind people that there’s someone there for them and that they are loved,” said Jilian Siegal, a Peer to Peer member.
There are many projects “Peer to Peer” does to spread positivity and promote resiliency within the school. The group provides stress-relieving activities to students, including yoga and coloring mandalas. They sponsor a “Color Runs” to mix all colors and types, symbolically bringing color to life. For $1, students can write “Lollipop Notes” — words of appreciation from one student to another. The work they’re doing is making a difference in the spirit of the school, as well as garnering national attention.
“Our main goal is to break down social barriers. In doing that, we need to spread acceptance of everyone,” Siegal said. “Breaking up little cliques that exist.”
Another project of the group is putting positive messages on every person’s locker. “Some people thought students would take them down right away and think it was cheesy, but by the end of year, we saw a lot of people still had them up,” “Peer to Peer” member Greg Shulkosky said. “I think it just shows how much of an impact it has on people.”
Straub says the group originally focused on domestic violence but decided to focus on suicide prevention after a series of suicides at the school. “We really wanted to let people know they’re not alone when they’re struggling,” she said. “We want people to know it’s OK to talk about it, recognize it and get some help.”
Students say the message is getting across. “It’s not so much of a shameful thing to reach out to someone for help or to admit you’re struggling with something,” said team member Emma Whitford. “I think Peer to Peer has helped with that.”
The Jefferson Awards Foundation makes it possible for students on a local and national level to participate in leadership training, where they learn about fundraising and leadership skills and get help with their future projects.
“You never know what’s going on in someone’s life and maybe one morning it brought a smile to someone’s life if they were going through a tough time and that’s all we’re looking for,” Shulkosky said.