So you wanna be a SSDP Certified Peer Educator?

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Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s Just Say Know program was initially introduced to the network during SSDP2016. Since then, we have updated to the 2nd edition of the curriculum, began developing a webinar series of the training curriculum, certified 15 Just Say Know Peer Educators, began translating the curriculum into Spanish, and engaged hundreds more in our training curriculum.

We are grateful to our members who continue to be excited about the program, and wanted to share some experiences, tips, and tricks from some of our rockstar SSDP-certified Peer Educators, with the hope that their insights will help motivate you and answer some questions you may be having about the training component of the program!

Why should I become a certified peer educator?

Why would someone want to complete the Just Say Know (JSK) training in the first place? Our certified peer educators shared what initially motivated them. Responses included wanting to boost their potential career path, becoming a stronger chapter leader, earning course credit, representing SSDP on their campus and in their community, and earning lots of CAT points.

Julia Hilbert ‘17, noted that what most motivated her to completed the training was, “. . . becoming more educated on the issues that matter to me within the harm reduction and drug policy fields. The JSK curriculum provides us with a lot of credible sources to cite when trying to explain things to people who may not be as informed. I think a lot of the confusion and controversy around some issues in our fields could be solved if people simply educated themselves on the issues.”

According to SSDP Board of Directors member James Gould ‘15“I was hoping to better be able to represent Students for Sensible Drug Policy on campus and during educational events. While completing the certification, I was hired by SSDP as an intern doing drug education for high school students, where this certification came in handy in educating students about the effects of drugs and drug laws. The CAT points were a nice bonus.”

SSDP BoD secretary Zane Bader ‘15 wanted to become certified for his own personal knowledge, as well as that of others. “I wanted to help spread information to people that haven’t spent the same amount of time researching these areas that I have. For personal research and knowledge, I wanted to get resources that I was not aware of and study areas that I hadn’t before, such as recovery and diversity training.”

Timothy Spears Jr ‘15 said, What motivated me was the fact that so many of my peers and myself included were quite ignorant when it came to drugs and alcohol. I hoped to know more about sensible drug policy and learn new methods of teaching other people.”

Recently, a few chapters have decided to incorporate the training curriculum as a way to build stronger, more knowledgeable chapter leaders. For example, Reuben Francis ‘17 from Kent State explained, “Our chapter decided to create a rule that all chapter leaders must be peer educators. I intend to be chapter leader someday so I was motivated to become certified.”

Other members have been able to receive independent study credit for completing the training, such as SSDP BoD Vice Chair Amy Hildebrand ‘16 from DePaul. “I was motivated by the faith I had in SSDPers before me (namely Vilmarie and Frances) to identify what sort of lesson plan/plan of attack we needed to educate each other. The kick in my butt to actually complete the lessons was earning class credit.”

Lastly, some peer educators, like former board member Kevin Garcia ‘14, hoped that becoming certified would help them with their future job prospects saying he was motivated to complete the training to inform a job like the one he currently has. “I’m currently a health educator for a health department’s HIV/STI prevention program doing syringe exchange services and this training helped SO MUCH.  My initial goals and ideas about the training were just to learn more about drug policy and harm reduction while getting CAT points to take myself and others to the conferences.”

What do peer educators do once they are certified?

Next, we often get asked what someone can DO once they are certified. Fortunately, the many resources available in the training curriculum lessons and the JSK drug education modules allow for a great deal of potential. Hosting events, sharing resources, and tabling are only the beginning!

SSDP BoD member Rob Hofmann ‘16 said he conducted, “Peer education program presentations and [used] peer education resources to bolster other presentation materials“ when they presented and hosted other events on campus.”

Many certified peer educators found it easy to use the resources to share information informally with peers, including Julia, James, Reuben, and Amy, who all found the training and the resources in the program useful while tabling and having informal conversations with their peers about drugs, drug use, harm reduction, and drug policy.

Amy noted, “We hosted meetings centered on a specific JSK curriculum module, [such as] ‘Nightlife Harm Reduction’ prior to festival season as [a form of] festival season harm reduction.”

Some peer educators were able to take it a step further, and found the training was helpful for them in larger events and collaborations. For example, Kevin mentioned that his chapter at Florida International University hosted many events and participated in several campaigns, notably equipping campus police with naloxone (and training on how to use it), hosting a psychedelic dinner, and hosting discussions on topics such as medical marijuana with military veterans, gender and drug policy, and the intersections of the War on Drugs and civil rights movements. The chapter also collaborated on an event with a research group at FIU where they worked to help PWUD in the Dominican Republic create a gallery exhibition to facilitate policy change toward harm reduction. Kevin noted that going through the training helped him be better informed for these projects and have more open and honest discussions at these events.

James was able to take his training into an internship with SSDP, where he helped to develop an adaptation of the program for middle and high school students in a Denver public school.

Others, like Zane, have expanded their training beyond campus: “Recently, Evan Nison ‘09 and I began to tell our colleagues about the program and I will be doing some sort of training/educating at our annual company retreat!”

Did our certified peer educators accomplish what they wanted to get out of the program?

Staff member Luis Montoya ‘16 noted that not only did he gain important knowledge, he was also able to help get over 12 chapter members to the conference through CAT points earned for JSK activities! “I feel like I accomplished what I hoped to. I honestly came into the curriculum with a very cynical perspective, but was won over…I appreciated how the resources expanded or corrected my vocabulary, or helped frame certain things I already knew in a light that led to some “aha!” moments. I also got twelve to fourteen members to conference that year.”

Julia found the curriculum has helped her in other harm reduction work, “I feel that I am able to educate my fellow future social workers on issues that they are generally uninformed about. I also volunteer frequently at the syringe exchange with Prevention Point Pittsburgh, and completing the modules has helped me feel more informed, and able to help participants in the ways that they need.”

Kevin noted he continues to apply the knowledge and skills he learned in his current job, “I facilitate presentations for police, community-based orgs, faith-based orgs, and others and it feels like I’m a chapter leader for SSDP again.”

Feedback from others about the program seemed positive as well. Amy noted, “Speaking for myself, just a general sense of awe for how much there is to know and how much the general drug user doesn’t know. I think everyone I’ve done lessons with is thankful for the JSK curriculum for answering questions that don’t always have a reliable source of answers. Others I have shown the curriculum to see promise in its methodology being used in medical cannabis education (duh) and that it’s a great model/method to peer educate.”

Zane says that, “People are very receptive and excited to see that there’s one place to go for all the information you could possibly want. It’s broken down into well-organized sections and everyone I talk to seems to really like it.”

What advice can you give to someone considering becoming certified?

Now that we’ve convinced you to participate in the training, here are some tips and encouragement from our pros:

Rob: “Have a respected member of leadership negotiate a timeline for senior members of the chapter to work on modules.”

Julia: “For engagement in the program in general, I think it is imperative for people within the network to understand that completing the JSK lessons only stands to make them more informed on issues that they care about…It also makes us more competent and able to speak and debate with campus officials, policymakers, and othersI think it is important that people not be too intimidated by the size of the curriculum, and realize that they can work on it at their own pace, and when they feel they have the time.

Timothy: “You are never too old or too educated to learn something new. Even if you are well-versed in the material of the JSK program, gaining a certificate that says so is only beneficial, and I can almost guarantee you’ll learn something you didn’t know before after completing the curriculum. I encourage anyone in the process to finish the curriculum. And to anyone who already has I recommend they continue to contribute and use the lessons and modules as a resource.

Reuben: “Set goals for yourself. Aim to get a certain amount of modules done by a certain time and stick to it.”

Luis: “Take your time, read carefully, and make sure your answers reference the resources. The curriculum takes a bit of time, but it’s full of incredible information. Even when the information is common knowledge, you may find the framing useful for your own activism and organizing. Finally, periodically think about how you can use this information and these resources to promote sensible drug policy!”

How do I get started?

If you are interested in starting the Just Say Know Peer Education training, you can find the training curriculum here, and reach out to Drug Education Manager, Vilmarie, at with questions!