A creative handshake is sometimes all it takes to break the ice and become the conversation starter between new friends.
So learned our freshman class last week on Peer Leader Activity Day. Broken out among six groups with two Peer Leaders per group, ninth-graders spent the day learning about one another and their school community to better help them navigate their first year as Upper Classmen.
They also got to know their respective Peer Leaders whom they had met just once prior to PL Activity Day. By the end of the school year, they’ll know them quite well given that they’ll be meeting once a week from here on in.
Established 29 years ago, the Princeton Peer Leadership Program offers freshmen a year-long orientation and social mentoring opportunity as administered by their peers – 12 specially selected seniors known as Peer Leaders.
Selected last spring following an intense application, essay, and interview process, the 2018-2019 Peer Leaders are: Jaxon Alston, Eve Brannin, Zirun Chen, Skilyn Gay, Vasilios Gioulos, Radha Gonsai, Kiley Herlihy, Gemyla Huang, John Carlo Letizia, Madeleine Malin, Charles Manger, and Jake Miceli.
Throughout the school year, the Peer Leaders will mentor and guide the freshmen utilizing skills they learn and acquire in a daily honors class. Prior to the start of the school year, the seniors embarked on a three-day retreat to commence their leadership training with advisors Lisa Daly and Chase du Pont, himself a Peer Leader during his senior year at Hamden Hall in 2002.
“Peer Leadership truly embodies Hamden Hall's core values of Excellence, Support, Participation, Accountability, and Respect,” maintained Mr. du Pont. “It’s such an honor to work with Lisa Daly on the development and growth of the Peer Leadership program. We are thankful to be able to apply our training towards preparing future leaders and helping to orient the incoming ninth graders to the culture of Hamden Hall.”
During the recent PL Activity Day, morning outdoor activities at the Skiff Street Athletic Complex, which included the handshake exercise followed by snacks, were moved inside the Beckerman Athletic Center for more in-depth conversations and activities. One of the ways Peer Leaders broke down barriers and encouraged discussion and exchange was through flash cards featuring various types of questions. Everyone was expected to share thoughts and experiences – even the Peer Leaders.
With Activity Day over, the freshmen will now meet with their Peer Leader groups on Thursdays during the final block of the school day. The weekly sessions will be chock-full of exercises to first set the tone and then engage students to help them drop pretenses and better understand one another. Activities range from fun session openers to more serious and profound undertakings that establish connections and motivate personal growth.
To prepare for these weekly discussion groups, Peer Leaders receive intensive training through leadership skill units and hands-on projects, such as social bonding exercises. Peer Leaders learn real-world approaches and problem-solving mechanisms to expose and then key-in on those adolescent feelings that are universal among young people.
According to Mr. du Pont, even the Peer Leaders themselves will grow as individuals throughout the school year because of the leadership training. Mid-year, the Peer Leaders will undergo a 24-hour refresher retreat similar to their experience in August.