Communication is key for students at two local high schools who are working to help other students through problems.
Peer counselors at Oak Hills and Hesperia high schools say they've found they're able to communicate best with their fellow students as they work through their teenage years together.
At both high schools, students can take an elective class in peer counseling that provides them with skills to help their fellow students or to cope with their own problems. The class is a prerequisite for a small group of students that become advanced peer counselors.
At Oak Hills High, seniors Miranda Cardoza, Nicole Dana, Alyssa Navarro and Joshua Bare comprise the advanced peer group.
"We practice different scenarios on each other in the class," Cardoza said. "The other students give us constructive criticism on what we did."
"We learn about drugs, divorce and how to listen and get the student to talk," Navarro said.
At each school, the peer counselors are trained to be aware of red flags that must immediately be reported to the administration. Students who come in for counseling sign a confidentiality agreement that clarifies what must be reported. All other discussions are private.
"If a student reports that they want to hurt someone, if someone is hurting them, or if they want to hurt themselves, we have to report it," Cardoza said.
"Our main goal is to give them advice and see which part they feel comfortable enough to go with to make them have an easier time throughout whatever they are going through," Dana said.
The students said it's never their role to tell the student what to do, but help them find their way to a solution. The peer group can deal with situations ranging from two girls arguing over a boy, their own or a family member's illness, classroom issues and family drama.
"I had someone come in and say, 'my parents are fighting about everything, and my brother is going to jail,'" Bare said. "Then the other brother started fighting with a neighbor."
The student arrived home and all of this erupted around them in one night.
"I talked to them and made sure they were OK, and tried to help them get past it and not get hurt."
At Hesperia High, seniors Sal Garcia, Jaclyn Martin and Jasmine Rodriguez, and Ryan Rivas, a junior, are some of the peer counselors. The students sometimes work in teams.
"We feed off of each other," Martin said, describing how each of them picks up on different things.
"You have to be at least a sophomore to join peer," Garcia said. "You also have to have a minimum 2.0 GPA, no disciplinary record and good attendance."
Rodriguez said some students who get bullied don't have healthy coping skills — so they skip school or hurt themselves.
"I try to find their passion," Rodriguez said, "like art or something else to move them towards, rather than hurting themselves."
Garcia said that some of the face-to-face bullying has moved to cyber bullying now.
"Students can go online and call you names and be anonymous," Garcia said.
The students described websites that allow a person to set up anonymous email and Twitter accounts. Rivas worked with a student who was being bullied.
"There was one girl who was having problems in her relationship," Rivas said. "There was a lot of verbal abuse, and the boyfriend started to bring in other people to abuse her."
The boyfriend made the girl feel the only way to stay with him was to allow the abuse. She eventually found the strength to end the relationship.
"I've seen her around, and she actually tells other people to come in and talk to us," Rivas said.
Each of the students smiled at their new nicknames around school, one they are proud to share.
"They call me the 'peer kid,'" Ryan said.