Peer Mentors Inspire at William Penn

April 23rd, 2013

Category: News

We all know that mentoring works—having role models to look up to helps students feel supported and safe. Senator Carper was actually a mentor for a student at the school where I previously taught, and I saw firsthand the positive effect the relationship had.

The Princeton Center for Leadership Training has taken this concept and implemented with a slight twist, with a program called the Peer Group Connection (PGC). Juniors and seniors are trained to serve as mentors for small groups of freshmen, meeting with them weekly to support them and to develop leadership and teamwork skills. In March, I had the opportunity to visit Colonial School District’s William Penn High, our state’s largest high school, and the first in Delaware to implement the program, which was just implemented this fall.

I was blown away.

At first I was skeptical of the program. After all, the mentors are still in high school themselves—would they have the perspective and experience needed to guide students just a few years younger? As I observed, though, I quickly came around. Everyone I talked to, from the freshmen to the staff, agreed that not only were students good mentors, but because they shared the same experiences, in many ways they were better able to relate. Listening to the mentors share about their experiences, it was clear that not only did they care deeply for their mentees, but by serving as role models, they accordingly held themselves to a higher standard and were more motivated to be accomplished, both academically and personally.

And it turns out that this result is supported by data—lots of it. A randomized study of low-income students in an urban high school found that freshmen who participated in PGC graduated at a rate 10 percentage points higher than their peers, a result corroborated by a number of similar studies on the impact of peer-led mentoring and leadership training.

Even more exciting than the success at Penn High is the fact that PGC is currently in the process of applying for a federal grant to expand its impact in Delaware to three more high schools (if you’re interested you should contact Margo Ross, managing director of communications and development).

I’m not the only one who has been struck by their success: PGC has recently been featured nationally, on NBC’s Today Show. And if you’re still not convinced, check out this video Penn students put together describing PGC in their own words:

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Brian Yin