Ten years ago, in order to help benefit the relationships at ASL, Counselor Stephanie Oliver created the Peer Leadership program.
The program is made up of 12 selected Grade 12 members to learn leadership and facilitation skills while being a supportive resource for students in younger grades. Each peer leader is assigned to a Grade 9 advisory, which they regularly visit in order to form connections with Grade 9 students.
Peer Leadership is an opportunity for seniors to become more compassionate, empathetic and be trained to listen to others.
While working with younger students is a large part of their role as a peer leader, they also learn themselves through a class in which they each participate in. Within this class, their job is to learn different skills which they can implement in their assigned advisories and throughout life.
Each class starts with an opening ritual which is led by one of the peer leaders. Following this, the peer leaders share their struggles presented in their Grade 9 advisories, as well as their hopes for improving their leadership skills and continuing to help the kids they’re working with.
Oliver said peer leaders want to have a connection with their Grade 9 students and the class helps them learn how to do so. Yet, Oliver said that some personality traits can’t be taught as there are some you need to already possess.
Madeleine Hatzmann (’23) has a peer leader in her advisory and said that they need to have certain qualities to be effective.
“A peer leader needs to have authenticity, openness, and vulnerability authoritative, helpful, and honesty,” she said.
Oliver said that while leadership and facilitation can be taught, a peer leader needs to have that initial vulnerability and openness.
“They need to be able to share their struggles and open up about their life in order to gain the trust and openness of the kids they’re working with,” she said.
Peer leaders are assigned to a Grade 9 advisory, and Math Teacher Jenny Wexler, who is also a Grade 9 advisor, said that in her opinion this is because Grade 9 students are more comfortable with other students, rather than teachers.
“As a ninth-grade student you’re new to the high school and part of the job of the advisor is to help you get adjusted to what’s going on and to be a resource for you,” she said. “But, the advisor is pretty far removed because they’re a teacher. That doesn’t mean we can’t help but the peer leaders have that other perspective,”
Peer leader Isabella Mattera (’20) also agrees that students may feel a larger connection when talking to someone closer to their age.
“Often, students may not feel as comfortable going to teachers for help, but we provide some friendly faces who are always willing to listen and help—regardless of the topics at hand,” she said.
Wexler was very happy with her two peer leaders and said they portrayed the qualities she seeks for in a leader.
“In order to be an ideal peer leader, you need to be comfortable and confident to bring topics up to the advisory without being asked. You need to show initiative and be authoritative,” she said.“I am very happy with the two peer leaders who were assigned to me as they show all the qualities which I see fit for a peer leader,”
However, while Wexler sees the program as a chance for students to talk to someone closer to their age, Hatzmann not only sees as that but also a way to implement more fun activities into the advisory showing that there is more than one goal for what they want the program to portray.
“Peer leaders give freshman advice and insight about how to navigate problems in high school, and also help the advisory bond and have fun together,” she said.
Mattera said she thinks peer leadership is crucial in the High School as “[Peer Leadership] provides leaders within the student body that are there solely to help other people (especially students),” she said.
With Oliver seeing such a positive impact on students from the peer leaders in the past couple of years, not only did Oliver get the peer leaders to begin working with second-semester Grade 8 students to help them transition into high school, but they also began to work with students in Grade 7.
Mattera got a lot out of the peer leadership program enjoying the time she got to spend with younger kids as well as the impact she got a chance to make on the ASL community.
“Being a peer leader is a really enriching experience,” she said. “I get to work with others who want to make the same positive difference in the community as I do while getting to know people of all ages throughout the High School.”