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North Hills, Pine-Richland, Shaler students make a difference in classroom, community

North Hills Senior High School students involved in Crisis Center North’s Peer to Peer Empowerment program organized a community Peace Walk this spring. Members of the group are (front row, from left) Natalie Mengien, teacher Bonnie Ziff and Mackenzie Southworth; (middle row, from left) Maddy Piatek, and Daniela Alban; and (back row, from left) Max Sikorski, Sarah Brunner, Jared Wink and Andrea Alban.

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By Dona S. Dreeland
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 5:03 p.m.

What Leon Strimel offers to students active in his program is potential.

As prevention educator with Crisis Center North, Strimel brings opportunities for leadership to teens and a chance to make changes in their classrooms and communities. Through peer-to-peer efforts, problems can be solved and issues eased.

Eight of 10 participating school districts sent student representatives to the annual Peer to Peer Empowerment program and luncheon, sponsored by Crisis Center North at The Chadwick in McCandless. Students from North Hills, Pine-Richland and Shaler Area high schools were among them. This was an opportunity for student teams to explain their special projects.

During two workshops this fall, Strimel, who has managed the program for about four years, encouraged students to create programs to address issues they see at their schools.

“We want to open the students' eyes to social-justice issues,” said Strimel, previously a school counselor for 35 years. “Peer to Peer teaches leadership and team building.”

One of Strimel's techniques is to have students list the issues at their schools and then make a list of their schools' assets.

“We use assets to work on issues,” he said.

Attendees learned about projects involving things such as building self-esteem, determining appropriate dress for school, and eliminating bullying and dating violence. Through videos and conversations, the teams shared their successes and difficulties.

Eight students from North Hills Senior High School in Ross Township and sponsor Bonnie Ziff, a family- and consumer-science teacher, had organized a Peace Walk in Martorelli Stadium in West View in March. The team wanted to create awareness of racial discrimination and the need for social justice.

This goal could occur only with attention to detail.

“We worked at getting everything together,” said North Hills senior Andrea Alban, 18, of Ross, who served as walk coordinator and received a $250 scholarship from Crisis Center North. As she spoke, a student-produced slide show played to the tune of Diana Ross' “Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand.”

Students had to schedule the event, book the stadium, make signs, arrange for water and cookies, engage clubs and other community organizations, deal with the media — and then wake up early to set up for the event.

Then, on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, more than 200 people walked, Alban said.

“It expanded beyond the school,” said Alban, pleased with the support from local churches. Donations people made at the walk went to World Vision, an Aleppo Township-based humanitarian organization that fights poverty and injustice.

“It was multicultural,” Alban said.

The Peer to Peer Empowerment team from Pine-Richland High School connected with the school's Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to place an even stronger focus on fighting bullying.

The group performed a skit for middle school students, helped kick off the Olweus program at the high school by asking students to “Commit to be Kind” and trained juniors to carry on the work of the empowerment group.

Shaler Area High School's group is working toward getting new policies on sexual assault and sexual harassment in place in their school district and perhaps others across the state.

They are part of the school's Youth Advocacy League/M-Powerment organization, which has a goal of eliminating negative gender issues in the school and community.

Students also are working to encourage healthy self-esteem in young female students by creating a “tool kit” that includes a mirror, a postcard encouraging healthy relationships, a flash drive that tells the group's story and instructions for confidence-building activities.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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