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Peer Interaction Team Marks Two Decades
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Celebrating its 20th year of students helping students, Escalon High School's Peer Interaction Team, PIT, is still going strong.

Open to students from sophomores to seniors, the team is designed as an in house peer counseling group, with members assigned to work with students on the Escalon High, El Portal and Dent Elementary campuses.

"At El Portal, I always used to see the high school students come and talk to kids," said senior Katie Kaech, a three-year PIT member whose interest was sparked when she was at the middle school. "I like to help people, it's like the best thing."

Kaech and fellow seniors Kim Rudd and Desirae Bishop are all three-year members of the group.

Students go through an application process and are carefully screened before being selected to participate in the PIT program, which is under the direction of teacher Steve French.

"It started in the wake of an on campus suicide, a young man by the name of Bill Lucky, he was a continuation student, a former high school student," French explained.

Lucky shot himself on campus some two decades ago and, in the aftermath of that tragedy, counselors developed a plan by which students could work to help each other cope with some of the day-to-day problems and issues that arise.

"The lead counselor was Michael Simone and he was the key figure," French explained of the group's founding. "Peer counseling was in its infancy at that time and he sold the district on the idea. They recruited top student leaders that year to form the basis of the group and they met at lunchtime ... I was invited on board and we went as a pre-period class that next year."

Now, the PIT team meets in regular classroom session and members attend various conferences as well as work with peers and underclassmen in the district. They also share concerns, fears, failures and successes with other, as a way of building bonds of trust and friendship that extends out of the classroom.

"I went to conferences, put together a curriculum," French added of developing the program over the years. "We've worked in training the kids in counseling skills."

Students also learn the importance of confidentiality when working with their assigned student buddies and are there to offer a listening ear, play a game of catch or just enjoy spending some time together in a non-pressure situation.

After spending time in the classroom to start the school year, students are then assigned out to buddies and on their visiting days, can leave the EHS campus during the class time to meet with their student if they are at Dent or El Portal. Others meet on the high school campus itself. French said the class works with school counselors to get referrals of students - at all grade levels - that might benefit from the 'buddy' system.

"I've had five kids," Kaech said of her three years with the program. "The first year, you do Dent, then you do El Portal or the high school.