The recipe for success is easy enough, at least according to the MFS Peer Leadership program. Start off with a fistful of freshman, add a pinch of seniors, a whole box of Dunkin Donuts, and a year’s worth of advice, and what do you get? Welcome to the Peer Leadership program at Moorestown Friends School.
The Peer Leadership program, in its third year, has finally become an established part of the MFS curriculum. In the peer leadership program, a small group of seniors are chosen to be peer leaders; split into teams of two, they each take a small group of freshmen under their wing, supervising classes in which they support freshmen emotionally and teach them social strategies and problem-solving skills.
Head of the Upper School Justin Brandon, who directly supervises Peer Leadership, explained that the program was created to provide a safe environment in which ninth graders could receive support in their first year of Upper School. The program was also designed to give seniors a way to give back to the Upper School community in their final year at MFS, exercising the leadership skills they have learned throughout high school. Mr. Brandon noted that since freshman often face challenges during their first year of high school, and seniors have already been in their shoes, it is a perfect match. Freshman Amanda Augustino echoed Brandon’s sentiment, saying, “It’s good to have an opportunity to talk to people who have been what you’re going through.”
However, these interactions don’t stop at the classroom door. Many students, both freshman and seniors, have been seen communicating with each other outside of the classroom and even after the school year ends. “They’re like a big brother or sister,” said Shelby Deibler, a new 9th grader.
When asked why she wanted to be a peer leader, senior Jessica Ferber said, “There were some seniors that guided me through high school.” She explained that when she was a freshman the peer leadership program didn’t exist. This year she decided to become a peer leader to help the freshmen during their first year of high school.
But not all students see the same benefits in the program. Some students have expressed discomfort when talking about hard issues with people that they are not close with: Freshman Marcella Thanh-Guyet wishes she had “at least one friend” in the class, while a freshman who wished to remain anonymous simply said, “I don’t feel comfortable with a lot of the kids there.” Meanwhile, freshman Anthony Carrano noted he “wouldn’t care either way” if the class was cut short.
When asked how the program might be improved, many freshmen claimed that having it meet more often in the cycle might help, as a way to increase the sense of community and friendship within the class. Brandon, who has stewarded the program nearly since its inception, confirmed that this idea has been popular since the beginning. Schedule constraints are likely what is holding back this potential improvement.
To sum it up: freshman, seniors, and a box of Dunkin Donuts: great things are ahead. But when the donuts run out, not every freshman knows quite what to say.