Freshmen at IDEA will benefit from a strengthened support system this year as IDEA launches its first Peer Group Connection program. Juniors and seniors participated in a three-day training retreat and will take a year-long leadership class so they can effectively mentor younger classmates.
The training retreat experience was invaluable to senior and peer leader Justin Davis, and its intensity surprised him. “I didn’t know I was going to get so close to the people who were there. That bond we made won’t break.”
Using the techniques learned at the retreat, Justin and his peer leader Iyanna Lee will facilitate circles where everyone can check in about their feelings. Justin also knows the value in taking a break, even just for a few minutes, to go outside to clear your head.
Other scholars who will serve as peer leaders this year are Michael Artemus, Ceon Dubose-Palmore, Moet Dupree, Trejure McLean, Tyler Newton, Dianshe Robinson, Rennika Robinson, J'lin Small, and Shane Townsend. Pairs of peer leaders will be matched with a group of freshmen, who will meet with their mentors each Wednesday as well as for special activities throughout the school year.
“I wanted to be part of the Peer Group Connection because I like working with kids. I feel like if we can all work together we’re going to get somewhere,” said peer leader Justin Davis, a senior this year. “I also thought it would be a good experience for me and help me become a better leader. I like to talk to kids about what’s going on, and how you can fix problems. I want them to know they can talk to me and I will actually listen. I know we all need a friend.”
“The peer leaders will help freshmen make the transition to high school,” explained IDEA Director of Student Support Services Melody Washington. “Sometimes it’s easier to learn from someone close to your age who’s already been there and can show you the lay of the land.” Peer leaders will support freshmen through the social, emotional, and academic adjustments of moving from middle school to high school.
“Having these peer leaders creates a new level of accountability for our ninth-grade scholars,” Washington said. “It’s like how kids may listen to advice from an older sibling more readily than a parent.” Creating these relationships at the start of the school year will hopefully reduce the anxiety and tension that can often accompany the arrival of a new cohort of students. Justin hopes to serve as a role model for the freshmen he will be working with. “I really hope what they learn from me is a positive attitude and nice energy. I get things done," Justin said. “I think it’s going to be a cool school year with no fighting and no trash talking. I’m going to teach them to become leaders themselves.”
Even if he encounters freshmen who don’t seem to have the focus and discipline required for high school, Justin is prepared. “Whatever the ninth graders say, I can say I understand because I was the same, but I changed. When I got here as a ninth grader. I just wanted to be me and not do what anybody said. I regret the way I behaved. What helped me change was talking with teachers and staff—Ms. Washington, Ms. Sharpe, Ms. Briscoe—and being in JROTC. I realized I was going to be here for a while so I needed to learn to get along.”
Those same adults who were there for Justin in ninth grade will still be there to support him now in this new role, and offer advice to him as a peer leader when he needs it. IDEA teachers and staff also participated in extensive training in operating the Peer Group Connection so they can support both mentors and freshmen throughout the program. Social Studies Teacher Marecya Burton, English Teacher Nicolas Daney-Cuffie, and Academic Counselor Sara Sharpe will serve as advisors to the Peer Group Connection program. Ms. Washington, Counselor Yvette Brown, Director of Career and Technical Education Andrea Zimmerman, and Physical Education Teacher Peter Camacho also attended the training to better understand and share the philosophy of the program school wide.