leading to the future

Khushi Patel, Junior Staff Writer

Walking through the halls, you don’t recognize the faces you see. You’re scared to talk to the upperclassmen. You don’t make eye contact with anyone. You step aside when you see someone who is towering over you, walking towards you. These are the feelings that an incoming freshman might feel before going into the peer leadership program. However, after peer leadership, students might feel more connected with all the people surrounding them.

The SA Peer Leadership Program, which was based off a program that first started at Princeton University, has been instituted here since the fall of 2001. Ever since then, the program has been helping to get each year’s freshmen comfortable in the Upper School.

“The purpose is to connect ninth graders with upperclassmen, to help them know some upperclassmen, to feel connected in the upper school, as well as to help them with typical topics of interests for ninth graders,” Peer Leadership Sponsor Emily Philpott said. “It’s designed to help with that transition from middle school to upper school.”

Because of peer leadership, many freshmen have said that they have become very close to their peer leader.

“I think I’ve had a lot of fun connecting with seniors and connecting with my advisory,” Freshman Yasmine Ware said. “We get to learn a lot about each other. It’s really a lot of connecting going on, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

In peer leadership, many activities bring the students as well as their peer leaders together.

Out of all the activities that the freshmen have done so far, the activity where everyone wrote what they thought of each other on a piece of paper that was placed on each other’s back seemed to be a favorite.

“When we wrote what we thought of other people on their backs, I feel as if that was very telling and revealing of how identity is subjective,” Freshman Jacob McGrath said.

Unlike now, where the groups participate in several activities, when the program first started, there weren’t many activities.

“What I remember was we always, we mostly had discussions, like I see a lot of games and party happening now in peer leadership,” SA Alum and Freshman English Teacher Marty Kelly said. “I don’t remember that at all, I just remember having discussions, primarily.”

In past years, peer leadership took place during a 30-minute break; however, ever since the schedule change, it is now during the freshmen’s block five study hall. Because of this change, the groups are able to have more time for discussions.

These discussions include topics such as how to manage the workload and how to deal with peer pressure. During these discussions, a lot of advice is given to freshmen about school. The peer leaders serve as people who the freshmen can go to for this advice.

“Well I like helping people and I like freshmen, especially helping freshmen and getting them used to high school,” Senior William Harkless said. “I have a younger brother in the freshman class. I have experience with people his age, so I thought it could be easy. I thought it could be of use.”

Even though peer leadership’s purpose is to help freshmen get acclimated to the Upper School, the peer leaders also are able to share their wisdom with people younger than they are. As time goes on, the peer leaders and freshmen are getting closer and making long-lasting memories.

“I’m very much looking forward to coming back and seeing them all next year and seeing them at graduation because I’ve become really close with a lot of them,” Senior Margaret Branson said.

Even after graduation, some alumni are able to recall their experiences in peer leadership and how it affected their lives.

“I didn’t realize at the time that that was, in a weird way, my first experience teaching,” SA Alum and 8thgrade English Teacher Hannah Halford. “Like it’s not necessarily a teacher type of atmosphere, it’s not like a lesson plan, it’s not grading, but the kind of experience of leading a group that’s younger than you; it was like my first taste of what being a teacher would be like. I found out that I was good at it, and I didn’t think about teaching again until I was 22 when the opportunity to teach came in front of me.”

After having peer leadership, many freshmen want to become a peer leader themselves in senior year.

“I would love to be a peer leader,” Freshman Lillian Sistrunk said. “I really would do it. I would love to be a nice person to others like the older kids are to us.”

There are multiple steps in the process to apply to be a peer leader in senior year, and it all starts with an application in junior year.

“They fill out an application,” Peer Leadership Sponsor Dan Roach said. “They put together a résumé. They answer some questions about what they think leadership is. Then they go through a group interview before a multidisciplinary faculty panel about 6-8 faculty members who observe a group dynamic take place and make notes and so forth. And then based on the panel’s recommendations, we look to select a group of peer leaders that represent a good cross section of the upper school student body.”

Now, after having a year of peer leadership, you have more confidence in yourself. You walk through the halls, and you are not scared of anyone. You smile and say “hi” to people who you walk by. Because of our peer leadership program, students become more confident in themselves and are able to feel more connected with others.

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