Shelton students become teachers in city youth program

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Class is in session for a group of local high schoolers — as teachers, not students.

Youth2Youth peer advocates — a program within the Shelton Youth Services Bureau — will be spending Thursdays through April taking over the health classes at Shelton Intermediate School, talking to seventh and eighth graders about drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, and personal safety.

And this is a welcome return, as the pandemic shut down the interaction between the high school group and the intermediate school for the past two years.

“It makes me feel better to be able to talk to them and hear what they are feeling so we can help them,” said Casey Cannone, a high school junior in her first year with Youth2Youth. “We discuss the topics they might be going through and are able to offer our point of view. (We’ve) all been through some of these things.”

Cannone was joined by fellow Youth2Youth members Danny Connelly, Sara Taylor, and Ella Zoeller Thursday for a talk on mental health. In all, the four taught five classes that day.

The class focus included a look into the different mental health disorders, education on where to go for help and how mental health can affect even the most popular of today’s online influencers. The lesson plan included interaction such as question-and-answer and games.

“It’s good to have someone your own age to talk to you,” said Connelly, a senior who first joined Youth2Youth in seventh grade. “I think the kids here like hearing from someone close to their age because we know what to expect and how to deal with things.”

“Some of the topics are pretty heavy. We try to make the lessons a little lighter, more age appropriate but we never avoid the topics,” said Taylor.

Youth2Youth Peer Advocates are made up of intermediate and high school students who meet weekly to explore youth issues, plan community service projects, learn new life skills and train to become youth mentors and educators.

This community service group prepares young people for their roles in society in the areas of personal growth, leadership, and community involvement, according to Shelton Youth Services Director Silvia Rodriguez.

“It’s nice to have peer educators,” said teacher Michelle Sedlack, who has teamed with Rodriguez for some two decades to bring the Youth2Youth participants into her classroom.

“Sometimes students hear what (the older peers) are saying because they are closer in age and they are still in school as opposed to parents, teachers, or other adults in their life,” she added. “It’s a bonus having them be able to get important messages out to these younger students.”

Sedlack said her students are completely “engaged, focused, and listening” when the high schoolers come into teach.

“Those three things are such a positive … and such a positive experience in an educational setting,” she added. ”My students are looking at these teenagers share their experiences. It really hits home.”

The Shelton Youth Service Bureau was established in 1988 by the City of Shelton to coordinate, plan and develop services for the youth of Shelton and their families. The bureau works cooperatively with the schools, police, community resources, youth, and their parents to encourage youth to strive for their full potential.

“Our staff members address youth issues and concerns through life skills education classes, conflict mediation training, awareness campaigns and promotion of peer advocacy throughout the year,” Rodriguez said.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com