Family, Kids & Relationships

Kids offer social-emotional advice and words of inspiration in viral “pep talk hotline” project

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Some kids from West Side Elementary School in Healdsburg, California have gone viral after creating a national “pep talk hotline” called Peptoc. Dialing 707-8PEPTOC, or 707-873-7862, connects any phone user with a pre-recorded menu of options that prompts inspirational and uplifting messages from the students.

The hotline’s menu of options includes heartwarming choices such as, “If you’re feeling mad, frustrated or nervous, press one.” And, “If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press two.” Some words of wisdom from the little ones include invaluable advice like, “If you feel mad, go get your wallet and spend it on ice cream and juice!” As well as sweet affirmations like, “You look better than a star in the sky!”

Students from kindergarten through sixth grade participated in the project with art teacher Jessica Martin and her coworker Asherah Weiss. The hotline first launched in spring of 2022, along with a motivational poster campaign that was also spearheaded by Martin’s class. Then, during the week before the 2022 midterm elections, a tweet about the hotline went viral, and within 12 hours, the hotline received 1,623,000 calls.

Martin’s goal for the project was to inspire empathy and compassion in her students through emotional learning. As she explained to Today, “I really think that these kids are going to remember this for their life into adulthood and carry this with them that making change is easy and it’s possible. The idea is to start small and identify a community that you’re a part of and contribute to that community and then kindness continues out and multiples exponentially.”

The pep talk hotline project is one memorable example of social-emotional learning, which is an approach to learning that helps kids identify and manage their emotions, feel and show empathy for others, and establish and maintain supportive relationships. This approach has been gaining popularity as a companion to more traditional lesson plans because of its positive impact on kids’ mental health and self-esteem.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.