The mood in room A206, second period, is easy, comfortable, and casual. Ten or so juniors and seniors are sitting in a circle with Joe Guadio, a science teacher at John Jay High School. The teens are peer group leaders, Guadio is their advisor, and they’ve been meeting every other day since September. They know each other well and that’s the point.
“Peer Group Leadership is built on relationships,” said Ray DiStephan, a social worker at John Jay Middle School and head of the district’s Peer Group Leadership program. “Supportive relationships enable students to become more engaged learners and better navigate adolescent life.”
All freshmen are automatically signed up for Peer Group. Once every six days throughout the school year, pairs of peer group leaders meet with their assigned group of ten to fourteen freshmen, typically during lunch or study hall. They lead activities and conversations that they’ve practiced with their advisor. Topics include self-discovery, stress, and peer-pressure.
Ninth graders consistently report that the biggest benefit of Peer Group is the connections they make to juniors and seniors. Peer group leaders relay a wider range of benefits. They also receive one credit per year.
“I’m the oldest sibling,” said Alexander Ozols, a senior peer group leader. “When I was a freshman I did not have a guiding light to help me navigate high school. My peer group leaders became that for me.”
“Being a peer group leader has made me more confident,” continued Ozols. “It gave me confidence to go into literally any situation. I thought, if I’m a peer group leader, maybe I could also run for student government. And I did.”
“One of my favorite peer group activities is Turning Points,” said Katherine Ricca, another senior peer group leader. “We ask everyone to share something about themselves that is significant; something that molded them into who they are. Being a peer group leader has helped me learn how to make people feel comfortable and be able to open up.”
“Being a peer group leader is about EQ,” said Willa Goodman, referring to emotional quotient—a person's self-awareness and empathy. “Being a peer group leader gave me a place where I belong.”
Guadio concurs. “When we interview potential peer group leaders, we’re looking for students who are positive role models in the school community. High academic performance is not necessary, we want a wide range of students. Peer group leaders are willing to get involved and to help younger students adjust.”