Unlikley PALS

January 17, 2011
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Pear Assistant Listeners was created in West Ottawa Public Schools to provide students with counseling from the empathetic perspective of a peer. PALS members are mature and responsible students who meet with other students throughout the district to help them with any personal struggles with which they may be dealing. I was inducted into PALS after being recommended by previous PALS members and teachers. The PALS training course that I took during my junior year was more than a trivial requirement. It was a life-changing experience that challenged my preconceived ideas and showed me the importance of diversity.

The student population of West Ottawa is very diverse, yet it is not necessarily very cohesive. People often stick to their comfort zones and organize themselves into different cliques according to their backgrounds. This type of separation even existed within the members of the training course. I admit that even I had some pre-conceived judgments about my fellows PALS, some weren’t all that positive. Some of the people in the class were also very good friends of mine, and I thought that I knew everything about them. Little did I know, my assumptions were very wrong.
At the end of each class period we would put our desks into a circle and sit on them, facing each other. During this time we were free to share anything we wanted. At first these discussions weren’t very in depth and nobody really opened up. As we started getting more and more comfortable with each other, people slowly started revealing their true selves. I soon learned that the people I put into certain stereotypes didn’t fit those categories at all. I made judgments based on appearances or interests and assumed that we couldn’t all relate. In reality I discovered that we shared many of the same struggles and interests. I also found out a lot of personal stories about my long-time friends that I would have never known. I saw one of my friends, who I thought was invincible, break down in tears while talking about the death of a loved one. Seeing him cry was unbelievable and the entire class couldn’t help but to cry also. Before we knew it the entire class was united. It was as if everybody had been friends for years instead of just the 12 weeks of the class.

The PALS training showed me the value of encouraging diversity. Before the class, there is no way that these friendships would have ever happened because of the mental boundaries that we had about mixing cliques together. I now know more about these individuals and am closer to them than some friends I have known for years. I can only imagine the tremendous achievements that could be made in society if more people participated in programs like PALS. Ignorance and discrimination would greatly decrease and people would be more willing to help each other.

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