Background: PAL began in 1980, combining peer assistance and peer leadership strategies originally developed in the late 1970s. Over the past 15 years, these basic prevention strategies have been expanded, evolving the peer helping program from an informal, extracurricular activity in a single school district to a formally structured, curriculum-based program that has been adopted by the Texas Education Agency as an accredited elective course. Over 750 school districts throughout Texas have requested services from PAL Services Workers Assistance Program, Inc. (WAP), and WAP has documented substantiated the use of PAL in over 1,000 elementary, middle, and high schools in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
Objective: To build resilience in youth and help youth avoid risk factors for substance use as well as other problems, such as low achievement in school, dropout, absenteeism, violence, teen pregnancy, and suicide
Description: Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) is a peer helping program that seeks to build resiliency in youth by pairing youth with peer helpers who receive training and support from teachers participating in the program. PAL peer helpers act as guides, tutors, mentors, and mediators to peers or younger students (PAL mentees) by utilizing skills learned through PAL, including cultural competency, effective communication, decision making, higher order thinking, and resiliency building. PAL peer helpers are placed in helping roles with younger students from feeder campuses and peers from their own campus. Through a combination of leadership and assistance, they offer individual and group peer support, tutoring, welcoming and orientation of new students, assistance to students with special needs, classroom presentations, and school/community outreach projects.
PAL mentees generally are referred to the program by a contact person at the service site because of concerns about the students’ school performance (e.g., absences, tardiness, academic achievement) or personal or other problems. Students also can request to be referred to a PAL peer helper. PAL mentees are linked to specific peer helpers based on the needs of the PAL mentee and the skills and interests of the PAL peer helper.Teachers recruit, train, monitor, and evaluate the performance of the PAL peer helpers.
- Academic performance: On average, students who participated in PAL had significant pre- to posttest improvements in GPA, TAAS reading scores, and TAAS math scores and a significant decrease in the number of failed courses. When PAL peer helpers and PAL mentees were analyzed separately, both groups had significantly improved GPA scores and TAAS math scores. However, only PAL peer helpers had a significant decrease in the number of failed courses, and only PAL mentees had a significant improvement in TAAS reading scores.
- Classroom attendance: On average, students who participated in PAL had a significant decrease in absences from pre- to posttest. When PAL peer helpers and PAL mentees were analyzed separately, both groups had a significant decrease in absences from pre- to posttest.
- Classroom behavior: On average, students who participated in PAL had significantly fewer discipline referrals at posttest. When the PAL peer helpers and PAL mentees were analyzed separately, both groups had significantly fewer discipline referrals at posttest.
- Relationships with family, peers, and school: By the second semester of the school year following PAL participation, PAL peer helpers had significantly greater increases compared with control students in the following areas:
- Perception of being included in important school projects
- Praise received from their teachers for hard work
- Communication with their mothers
- Appropriate responses in dealing with peers
- Perception that the school had positive communication with their parents
Population of Focus: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, White, Children, Adolescents
Setting: School, Suburban, Urban, Rural and/or frontier
Level of Intervention: Individual
Resources/Qualifications Needed: The PAL teacher’s manuals (separate versions for high school and middle school) provide the foundation for teacher training, covering program orientation and the recruitment, selection, training, supervision, evaluation, and maintenance of student participants. An elementary advisor manual is available for educators serving elementary schools. The PAL student handbooks (separate versions for high school and middle school) provide instructions, worksheets, sample forms, and activities for peer helpers to use with their mentees.
Terrence R. Cowan, M.P.A.
Robert Landry, Ph.D.