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A new experience

Teacher Kerri Barnhouse talks about an eye-opening and new experience for her- teaching PALs.

If you thought Kerri Barnhouse was busy enough being a British Literature Honors, Biblical Literature, grammar teacher and an instructional coach for other teachers, think again. This school year, she has taken up another task: teaching West High’s Peer Assistance and Leadership (PALs).

Kara Wagenknecht
Kerri Barnhouse smiles for a photo on Friday, Sept. 14.

PALs is a class where older students act as mentors for elementary students, junior high students and underclassmen at West. These students might be struggling academically or with home life. The mentors provide extra support for the younger students whose specific needs might not be fully met by the school system.

PALs follows a curriculum that was developed by a school in Texas. This curriculum involves reflecting and community building, where older students have to learn to connect with people they don’t already know.

“[The older students] have to learn how to support each other, they have to learn how to be open and to be a little bit vulnerable,” said Barnhouse. “They have to learn how to be uncomfortable, they have to learn how to respond to kids who are sharing personal information with them, without judging, without trying to solve their problems, without offering advice, but just being a listener and a supporter and … a mentor.”

I get to work with kids who want to volunteer and be mentors, which is one of my favorite things. So it was really a win-win situation. It was … the perfect storm of events that took place that made it possible for me [to teach PALs].”

— Kerri Barnhouse

Barnhouse admits that this can be hard for some students who want to jump right into being a mentor for other students. Students aren’t truly ready to become mentors until they become more self-aware and think about their own values, strengths and shortcomings.

“[You] have to really understand yourself and get practice connecting with other people in a non-judgemental and in a really open and positive way before you’re ready to go meet with another kid.”

Grace Heller ’19, a PALs mentor, agreed with Barnhouse. The students participated in a moral dilemma activity, which Heller said taught her to understand that people have differing opinions and that not everyone will see things the same way.

Kara Wagenknecht
Values of a good mentor stick to a mannequin in Kerri Barnhouse’s on Friday, Sept. 14.

Heller was inspired to take this course by her brother, Mason, who has autism.

“PALs helped him feel welcome last year, as it was his first year at West,” Heller said. “He gained so much confidence. I wanted to help other people feel that way.”

As of now, the PALs classes have been undergoing training, but soon they will be interacting with other West students–the Best Buddies and ELL students. The PALs students will be developing relationships and helping these students feel more connected to West High and the whole school community.

Barnhouse started teaching PALs this year because the previous teacher Mayra Devries moved to Liberty High School to be a guidance counselor.

Barnhouse is such a kind and caring person; I think she’ll do wonderful things with PALs. She has shown that she has a special empathy for others that not many possess.”

— Grace Heller '19

“[Devries] really loved this program and was really invested in it. And she didn’t want to see it go away… so she and Mr. Devries approached me and asked me if I would be interested in it. And fortunately, it worked really well. It was something that I’m interested in,” said Barnhouse.

The position seems like it was meant to be for Barnhouse. Previously, she had already been seeking students who have open hours and asking them if they would be helpful to some other students.

“I get to work with kids who want to volunteer and be mentors, which is one of my favorite things. So it was really a win-win situation. It was … the perfect storm of events that took place that made it possible for me [to teach PALs].”

But to teach PALs, Barnhouse had to give up being an instructional coach for other teachers. She loved working with teachers who wanted to get better and reflect on their teaching, but she realized how much she missed having all five sections of students.

“Only having two [class periods], I really missed the kids more than I realized. So I’m glad to be back in the classroom.”

Barnhouse participated in a lot of training with Devries this summer. Devries is starting the PALs program at Liberty, so both teachers are co-planning their programs.

Whenever one of us has a success, we share it so that the other one can do it and when we hit a bump in the road, we share that too so we can learn from it.”

— Kerri Barnhouse

“Whenever one of us has a success, we share it so that the other one can do it and when we hit a bump in the road, we share that too so we can learn from it,” Barnhouse said.

Although this is Barnhouse’s first year teaching PALs, students have felt that she is doing a great job.

Heller said, “Barnhouse is such a kind and caring person; I think she’ll do wonderful things with PALs. She has shown that she has a special empathy for others that not many possess.”

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About the Contributors
Lily Meng, Online Co-Copy Editor

Lily Meng is a senior at West High. It is her first year on staff and she is an Online Co-Copy Editor. In her free time, Lily likes to play violin, write and drink bubble tea.

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Kara Wagenknecht, Online Editor-in-Chief, Co-Sports Editor

Kara is a senior at West and this will be her third year on staff. She is the Online Editor-in-Chief and Co-Sports Editor this year. When Kara isn’t covering a sporting event, she can be found playing with her dogs, editing photos, hanging out with her friends and dancing FTK.

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