Marxus Lugo strolled to his first hour at Macatawa Bay Middle School as he came back from a one week suspension, this was not his first suspension so he fell behind school, and needed help. He was assigned a PAL who worked with him for a semester tutoring him and helping him out with any problems he had outside of school. PALs, also known as peer assistant listeners, are a select number of students in West Ottawa High School that are trained for a semester of their junior year to go into schools and work with kids that need help with school, family issues, or kids that just need a friend. The PALs program has been going on for years and has transformed the lives of hundreds of students.
Marxus Lugo had a PAL in 8th grade, and now being a Junior, looks back at the times he spent with his PAL and how it really helped him out. “My PAL, who was Alex Zimmerman, really helped me talk to more people and encouraged me to talk to different social groups. Alex influenced me by helping me see the situations I was in through other people’s perspectives. I had my life, and I didn’t want anybody to tell me how to get through it, but Alex had a different perspective than me which helped me see somebody else’s view of me,” Lugo said. Lugo, and many other middle school students struggle to see how their actions are affecting them and other people. They typically do an action, but never think about how it might affect them down the road. PALs try to give them an insight to what they might become if they head on the same path, and try to steer the kids onto a better path.
The students that PALs typically meet with tend to shut the PALs out when they first start working together. The level of trust is usually not there and the kids are wondering why they were getting pulled out of their class. “At first, I didn’t want to talk to Alex, I didn’t understand why he was suddenly thrown into my life and I had no clue who he was. As we had more meetings, I started to see that he was a cool guy and I started to trust him more. I understood that he was there to help me out with whatever I needed, and he was there to not be a authority figure, but a peer trying to help me out. Looking back on my middle school days, I wish I could have met with Alex earlier. He really helped me get through my struggles and I am really grateful for that,” Lugo said.
Facing middle school is sometimes very tough and many kids tend to fall behind in the struggles of fitting into the different social groups that middle school brings. Not being “cool” or not fitting in is a fear that several middle school students have. Having a high school students come to their school and help them solve problems in their lives makes a huge impact on most kids that the PALs work with.
PALs have not only left an impact on middle school and elementary students, they have also impacted several high school students that are struggling with the challenges of high school. Aspen Avery, who graduated in 2015, was involved with the PALs program his whole high school career, “[The PALs program helped me get through high school by] having someone to look up to and provide examples to follow, [also the Pals helped] with school work and help me with my tasks folder.” Avery said, “Anna Battistello, Michael Deforest, and JD Otteman [who were my PALs] really helped make high school fun.” Aspen, along with many other high school students have been affected by the kindness, and compassion of the PALs they met with. PALs are able to make a huge impact on the lives of kids, even if they just help with homework or play games. In such a short time PALs are able to change a kid, and create a great trusting friendship, that will impact kids for the better.
PALs are making a huge impact on their lives. They are helping kids all around West Ottawa and changing lives the lives of the kids they meet with. Every year more kids are influenced by the PALs program and the generosity and kindness of the PALs members have made a great impact throughout West Ottawa.