Our Upper School Peer to Peer mentors kicked off their 2020-2021 season by meeting with 7th and 8th graders over Zoom last week. While they prefer to meet in person, they take advantage of technology to connect with Middle School advisories and start building the relationships that help prepare their younger schoolmates for what they’ll experience as they grow through their adolescent years.
Gretel Wurdack ’21, one of the three Peer to Peer co-heads, said, “Middle school can be a tough time of navigating friendships and finding oneself, so through Peer to Peer, students are taught how to be compassionate, empathetic, and deal with difficult situations appropriately. Before the start of the program, there was a large disconnect between the Middle and Upper School, but P2P has helped bridge the gap by answering any of the questions the students may have on life as an Upper Schooler and the new responsibilities that come with age.”
Mentors prepared for the first session by writing emails to the Middle School advisors introducing themselves and outlining the topic of conversation for the first meeting. They worked in teams to plan their conversations, determining which mentor would lead each part and ensuring those mentors unable to attend the prep session were prepared.
Then they arrived in Brauer Auditorium armed with earbuds, headphones, and charged computers, along with smiles and encouragement for their new, younger friends. They joined the Zoom sessions of their assigned advisories and leaped into introductions and their first lesson on self-esteem and self-respect.
A “getting to know you” segment allowed for the Upper School mentors to learn something about each member of their Middle School advisory, and for the middle schoolers to get to know about their peer mentors. They also discussed guidelines and rules for how they’d share their time together, and the mentors gave a preview of the program, explaining why it’s important, why they’re doing it, and how it can help students in the future.
“Peer to Peer is a tremendous opportunity to make really meaningful connections with middle schoolers. Whether we are going to the advisories in person or chatting with them through Zoom, it is always incredible to help guide middle schoolers through the treacherous waters that are middle school. From doing this, I have learned invaluable skills on being an effective and engaging leader who can both elicit meaningful conversations and act as a big brother to those who need more relatable and practical advice,” said Peer-to-Peer co-head Chase Siewert ’21.
Each student created a Google slide with their name, a photo of themselves, and ways they identify, including their favorite sport or activity and one word to describe themselves or one thing they are happy about or proud of. Mentors shared their screen and asked each student to present their slide to the advisory. At the end, the mentor group had a slideshow filled with students’ “nametags.”
Then, it was time for the mentors to introduce themselves. They shared how long they’ve been at MICDS, why they chose to become a mentor, and why the Peer to Peer program was created.
Each advisory established basic ground rules for all meetings, including:
- Peer to Peer workshops are Safe Places, which means confidentiality (everything that is said in here, stays in here).
- Students don’t have to share but they are encouraged to.
- Students can always approach any Mentor separately if they don’t feel like they can share with the bigger group.
- Participants must respect others’ stories and opinions with all of these topics (in other words, leave your judgment outside!), and remember they are each looking at things through their own lenses. Everyone’s opinion is valid.
- When sharing a story, participants should change names and details if identities will be revealed.
Students also discussed what additional rules they wanted to add, to ensure the best atmosphere for all participants throughout the year.
Advisories discussed what is self-respect and talked about respecting others. Self-respect is defined as “pride and confidence in oneself; a feeling that one is behaving with honor and dignity.” It’s about being happy with the person you are and treating yourself with kindness. Perhaps the hardest lesson to learn is to not say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Respecting yourself affects more than just you; it affects your relationships with others. Students talked about how if you don’t have self-respect, then no one else will respect you. Mentors also shared what each person’s “Circle of Influence” looks like and about how to create a positive circle.
Respect of Others
Students also talked about how everyone has a different background, identity, and opinions, and they discussed the importance of respecting others even when disagreements arise. Students talked about how to “converse to comprehend but not convince,” which enables difficult conversations to happen with respect and civility. Students are encouraged to listen fully and be aware of their responses both emotionally and physically. They should strive to keep their voices calm and reasonable, and if they find themselves feeling angry or upset, it’s time to walk away.
Peer to Peer co-head Ally Kalishman ’21 said, “Hearing advice from high school students about how to navigate life at MICDS can help bridge the transitional gap between middle school and high school, which is definitely an unexpected adjustment in several regards. Guidance from the Peer to Peer mentors is especially impactful because it comes from students who went through the same experience, which lets the middle schoolers know they are not alone in their questions or struggles. If the Peer to Peer Program can help even one student feel a little more prepared to take on the world, then that is a success.”
Mentors then closed the session by reviewing the topics that will be covered this upcoming school year.
Seventh graders will cover:
- Stress and Anxiety
- Healthy Relationships
- Unhealthy Relationships
- Technology and Social Media
Eighth graders will cover:
- Healthy Decisions
- Time Management, Collaboration, and Relationships with Teachers
- Consent and Sexual Assault
- Academics, athletics, activities, and arts in the Upper School
Lakshmi Tejasa Madala ’26 said, “My experience in Peer to Peer was great. It was nice how my peers helped me view life in a different perspective. The presentation they gave was also interesting. My peers did an amazing job and I enjoyed it.”
A major tenet of the Peer to Peer program is continually evolving the offerings to fit the needs of the younger students. With that in mind, Middler Schoolers were encouraged to email their mentors with any questions they would like to see addressed this school year.
Here’s to a wonderful year of making new friends and building new relationships!