Learning for the sake of knowledge is a good thing but learning tied to an incentive to get out of work for a week or go to lunch with a friend takes on new meaning.
The Peers students at Heritage were treated to a rewarding Peers party in February after completing a 26 week cycle learning social skills.
“One component of the Peers Academy is learning social skills,” said Charis Newbold, Home Director on the Cascade South boys’ home. “It’s a 12-lesson program and we cover each lesson for two weeks. As they participate they earn points.”
Charis said the culmination of these lessons is the Peers Party, held in the Performing Arts Center with all Peers students. This involves students in Cascade South, Denali, Timpanogos, Summit North and Summit South.
“We had about 60 kids this time,” she said. “All the staff on Peers’ homes, all therapists and academic advisers helped set up and helped with the kids and games. The games were planned by the rec therapists so it was a community effort.”
Students earned more points as they played games to reinforce the skills they learned in lessons.
“They earn points for participation during group therapy when learning the lessons,” she said. “The more they participate the more points they get.”
Charis said the students got to use their points in an auction at the party. Some of the prizes included going to lunch with a friend, fidget toys and sports equipment. Several students wanted prizes that allowed them to go off campus.
Brent, 14, was one of the students who liked the Peers activity.
“I liked the auction and being able to bid on and win lunch at Tucanos with a friend,” he said.
Nick, 17, won lunch with Heritage founder Jerry Spanos and a trip to Sodalicious with a friend.
The lessons learned in previous weeks revolved around relationships, especially making and keep friends in real relationships.
“The point of the program is to learn how to make and keep friends,” Charis said. “How to engage in conversation, how to have good sportsmanship, how to invite people over, how to use electronic communication appropriately, how to handle teasing and bullying situations. They learn these skills so that hopefully when they go home they can have meaning relationships.”
Erica, 16, said she wanted to earn some sensory puzzle pieces and a makeup kit. She reflected on what she learned from the Peers lessons.
“I’ve learned that the closeness and amount of trust directly correlates with the time and amount of effort you put into getting to know people,” she said. “The lessons are really generalized but they helped to clarify social skills and we got to process things, like knowing the order of how to handle a disagreement, etc. This helped me to be aware of these things and aware of my social skills within my friendships.”
Morgan, also 16, said she learned about trust and loyalty in friendships.
“I learned that I trust people too easily and I need to get to know people more before I tell them personal things,” she said. “This helps me to understand who I can trust and what I can expect as far as loyalty is concerned, if they’re going to be my real friends.”
Charis said it is very satisfying to see the kids’ progress and ability to use these skills, to have friends.
“They learn what a real relationship is,” she said. “A lot of kids come in and they’ve never had a real friendship – they were getting used or bullied; it wasn’t a real friendship. Kids who never had a real friendship go through program and have friends now.”
The culminating party happens about every 26 weeks and is a “really big deal,” she said.
“The kids really enjoy it and look forward to it,” she said. “They get good rewards for their participation. A lot have been in the Academy longer have attended the party in the past. Some were upset they didn’t have more points and said they will participate more next time.”
Tangible prizes like lunch and makeup are enjoyable but conceptual prizes like knowing how to make and keep true friends are lasting and cherished.
“I’ve had parents pick their kids up upon completion of their program and they are surprised to see their child has friendships,” Charis said. “Some parents have been in tears because their kids have friends now.”