Psychology majors teach about healthy relationships

Seniors Mark Pettit and Alyson Bergner are using their last semester at UNA to inform students about healthy relationships.

Both students are senior psychology majors completing the certificate in family life education. For their final internships, they are working with local middle and high schoolers, said Amber Paulk, associate professor of sociology and family studies, in an email.

To teach the curriculum, titled “Relationship Smarts,” Pettit and Bergner are working with the teen program at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, Paulk said.

“Dr. Paulk kind of came to us and was like, ‘We’ve had this kind of need for this program at the library, and we’re looking for interns, and I think that you guys would be a great fit,’” Bergner said.

The program originated at Auburn University, and it is 13 weeks long with the groups meeting back-to-back starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.

“Basically, the gist of the program is to teach teenagers how to identify and maintain healthy relationships,” Pettit said. “So, that’s with friendships, romantic relationships, between parents and the teenagers themselves and pretty much information that can be generalized into all walks of their lives.”

The first session was Jan. 17.

“The middle school group was super pumped, and our high school group was really engaged,” Bergner said. “Both groups warmed up, and we got to know them a little more than you probably would for knowing (someone) for an hour.”

The first sessions included icebreakers, and the total attendance was almost 30 students, Pettit said.

Although teaching together is new for the pair, they have known each other for over a year, Bergner said. Their friendship began when Pettit followed her as president of Psychology Club this year.

“We kind of play off each other, and we bounce ideas back and fourth,” she said. “It’s really great to have someone that supports you and that’s excited about implementing this.”

Both said the program is important because one like it would have benefited them growing up.

“We even tell kids how to break up,” Pettit said. “There’s several relationships that I had that I didn’t break up with the girl in the right way, and people just don’t know how to do many of these things because it’s stuff that doesn’t get taught in the home or at school. Most of the time kids learn from television or movies, and not everything is Hollywood.”

Pettit said he gained a little teaching experience in a previous internship, and this one will give him even more experience for his career goal as a family life educator.

“Basically, what family life educators do is they go out in the community and identify weaknesses within the community and bring curriculum and other professional resources into the community to help those weaknesses,” he said.

Bergner said she has past tutoring experience, but this will also help with her aspirations of obtaining a doctorate and teaching.

“I feel like this is a really good experience in such a way that I get to really teach a class,” she said. “Regardless if it’s only two hours a week, the fact is I’m getting in front of a class, we’re doing lesson plans — I get kind of all the basics in for being able to teach this curriculum.”

In the end, the two want to focus on the teenagers they work with.

“We want them to be respectful of us, but we want them to feel comfortable and be able to share,” Bergner said. “The first night set in motion that while it’s a curriculum, we’re here to have fun, learn, share and be respectful of others’ time and responses as well. I feel we accomplished that in the first night.”