Being a leader is not a simple task. It takes confidence, honesty, respect, commitment and many other qualities. Here at Grace, the Peer Leadership program is a great way to acquire, strengthen and demonstrate these leadership qualities. After students go through a selective application process, the program is made up of about a quarter of the 11th grade and continues through 12th grade. According to Dean of Student Life, Ilana Laurence,
“Peer leadership is a 2-year program at Grace that begins in 11th grade. Junior peer leaders lead the 5th-8th grade weekly discussion group “Cross Grade Connection (CGC),” along with one faculty member, once a week, allowing students of different ages to interact and learn from one another while discussing topical issues. Applications for Junior peer leadership are due in the spring of 10th grade.
In 12th grade, these same peer leaders pair up to lead 9th graders by advisory independently in weekly groups, which are intended to ease the transition to high school. Senior peer leaders continue to follow a formal leadership course, that they help create, on Lab Days throughout the year.”
This year, the Junior Peer Leaders met for the first time in early September at the 11th grade orientation. The program leaders, Ilana Laurence, Dean of Student Life, and Beth Walker, High School Guidance Counselor, briefed the 11th graders about the year and the group had a discussion about leadership. The peer leaders are expected to not only be role models for their CGC groups but also for the underclassmen and new students in the high school. One of the jobs of a peer leader is to be a friendly, approachable face around the high school and middle school campuses.
In the Peer Leadership program, the students involved have the opportunity to study leadership and reflect on their personal experiences with leading groups. It gives them a chance to be hands on and be able to take a step back to observe what kind of leader they are. For the 11th grade peer leaders, the weekly course focuses on identifying effective ways of leading as well as the different group situations in which each student thrives in.
In an interview, Junior Peer Leaders Cassandra Najjar and Charlotte Spohler discussed their expectations of the program, the importance of the program and why they joined. When describing her expectations of peer leadership Cassandra stated, “I expected to be a someone who could help the younger students specifically socially and academically, but I have realized that I have become a person who can help with any problems that come up for them.” Also, for Cassandra, she believes the importance of the program is that “The course teaches you to collaborate with other leaders, and it teaches the skill of adaptability.” To answer the question of the importance of the program, Charlotte said, “Leadership skills are applicable anywhere in life, and this course gives you the confidence to use those skills. In addition, Charlotte explained that the course provides tactics that “help push through tough and awkward group situations.” In the end of the interview, both Cassandra and Charlotte said that they joined the program because of the past experiences they have had with peer mentors and older students helping them out in their previous schools.
As a peer leader myself, I highly recommend this program to any freshmen or sophomores who are interested in it. Juniors also have the opportunity to join in their senior year if they missed out on it and want to participate. So far, this course has helped to build my confidence to take charge in group situations while applying the leading techniques I have acquired. The reason I feel that this course is so effective is because each week students are given the chance to learn new skills one day and then apply them a couple of days later. The program involves a lot of trial and error which is important because mistakes lead to improvement. Peer leadership is a great way for students to get out of their comfort zone and at the same time learn ways to navigate through their life.