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Trust Me Students Build On Peer Assistance Skills
Arms crossed over his chest, Logan Stewart took a deep breath, closed his eyes briefly, told his classmates how much he trusted them ... and fell backward into the waiting arms - crisscrossed into a safety net - of those classmates.

The exercise was one played out on the campus of Escalon High as the school's PIT, Peer Interaction Team, completed training for the new year with a series of 'trust week' activities.

Students in PIT are matched up with other students on the campuses of Dent, El Portal or the high school, working with those that need a listening ear, a 'big brother' or 'big sister' influence or just need someone to relate to with everything going on at school and in life.

Now in its 23rd year, PIT founder Steve French is handing the program over this year to new advisor Kayla Kootstra at the high school, but is staying active in an advisory capacity. He was there to run the trust week, with Kootstra observing as she prepares to take over the class.

"I started the program and I think it's really important," French said of PIT. "So far the district has made it possible for it to continue, we are very appreciative of that."

Students have to apply to be a part of the PIT team and it is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. An interview process is one of the steps toward being invited to join.

French said PIT is just as important today as it was when it was first formed, as the students work together with those that need a little extra guidance and the support of a peer.

"It's one of a kind," French said of the peer counseling program.

The class is limited to 28 students and this year, about half the class is new, active in PIT for the first time. Fourteen new PIT recruits have been taken through the paces of trust week and are finishing up the training they need. Soon, each PIT member will be matched up with students to work with in the district. They take the PIT class time to meet with them, with some of the PIT kids heading to El Portal or Dent for their classwork.

First, though, the students have to believe in each other and in the work they are about to do.

"Trust week, the kids really get out of their comfort zone," French explained.

The trust fall has the PIT team standing on the ground in rows facing each other, interlocking their arms to make a strong 'net' to catch their classmate. The falling student stands, back to his or her classmates, on a picnic table, moving backward toward the edge and then freefalling from the table into the strong safety net created by the classmates below.

"I trust you with my life," Logan Stewart said as he prepared for his free fall.

"We're here for you, Logan," his fellow students assured him in unison.

The trust week also included a blindfolded exercise walk with a classmate leading the 'blind' person, a trust spin circle and the 'air traffic controller' exercise, in which students were blindfolded and guided by voice commands only from classmates, navigated through an obstacle course set up in the classroom.

"I'm only subbing for the class," French added. "I'm totally retired now, except for advising."

With Kootstra due back soon from her maternity leave, she will take over leadership of the class with French saying on as advisor and mentor for her this year. French said he is pleased with the selection of Kootstra to serve as the class teacher and is anticipating an "easy transition" for her into the role.

And now that they have built that level of trust with each other, the students will be busy this week learning some final counseling skills and then will be ready to take those skills into the 'real world' on the local campuses.