The Peer Group Connection at Union High School welcomed parents and freshmen to their annual Parent Night Monday evening. The session was provided to introduce freshmen parents to what the program is doing to assist the Class of 2016 be successful and accomplish the goal of graduation.
Peer Group Connect (PGC), is a program that has been designed to provide freshmen with a welcoming environment as they transition from middle school into high school. The program is offered at all county schools. The PGC leaders, who are comprised of juniors and seniors, motivate students to become involved in school activities, improve academic performance and make a life long commitment to learning. Students develop leadership skills that will help them make positive changes in their school environment.
The Union High PGC program is coordinated by Raymond Hayes and Heather Knowles. During the fall semester a class is offered for the peer leaders in which they are given information on how to assist freshmen with a multitude of issues ranging from academic problems and dealing with teachers to family issues and such thing as suicide. The peer leaders are assigned a group of freshmen who they are to work with the entire year. There is a scheduled time each Friday, that rotates class blocks so as not to take too much time from any one class, for the peer leaders to meet with their freshmen in groups.
“The Peer Group Connection program helps our freshman transition into high school,” explained Knowles. “The class we teach each fall semester for the peer leaders helps to provide them with the tools they will need to assist their freshmen groups. For example, if a peer leader goes by In-School Suspension (ISS), and sees on of their freshmen they are to connect with that person and find out what they did to be placed in ISS and what decisions can they make in the future to prevent them from going to ISS. The PGC program has been very successful in our school,” added Knowles.
A total of 20 juniors and seniors comprise the Peer Group Connection. The peer leaders are encouraged to stay in contact with their group members not only at school but away from school as well. The peer leaders also attend a training retreat in the spring following their selections.
“We encourage them to get to know their group members. Stay in contact with social media and the like. Freshmen tend to also have a lot of issues other than academic and that is where we are able to help them,” stressed Knowles.
Hayes shared that the program was in its third year. The first two years the program was funded through a grant. However, this year the program is being funded by the county.
“Because we have seen positive results from this program, the county decided to continue the program and fund it, although at a lower funded amount. We are grateful to have the program here. We have even seen our drop out rate drop as a result of PGC,” asserted Hayes.
The peer leaders expressed that they too receive a lot from being a peer leader. Both Hayes and Knowles stressed that the peer leaders have not only talk the talk but walk the walk.
“For the peer leaders having an opportunity to help others has caused them to grow as individuals as well. We take them on a three day training session in the spring whereby we share with them many of the leadership skills necessary for them to be effective dealing with their peer groups. The peer leaders have expressed to us that they learn so much being a peer leader and that what they learn will go with them throughout their lives not matter way the direction they head may be,” explained Hayes.
“Our peer leaders were excited to get a chance to meet with some of their groups parents. They wrote and performed a skit for Parent’s Night. It is important that the parents buy in with the program so to support their student. In fact we require both the student and the parent to sign a commitment sheet stating that they will do all they can to support their student to be as successful both as a student and as a civilian,” remarked Knowles.
Freshmen are urged to participate but the program is voluntary, yet the majority do participate. Peer leaders are recruited in late spring prior to school’s complete. They must fill out an application to apply, be interviewed as well as complete an essay to be accepted into the program.
Spartan senior BaySean Washington stated that he wishes the PGC program was around when he was a freshmen.
“I truly enjoy being peer leaders. I believer I can help others and inspire them to help others in turn. Through this program we are able to help the freshman with any problem they my have here at school or at home. Being a peer leader has helped me to be a better person. I have had to make some changes in my daily activities so that I can become a role model so I can help others,” stated Washington.
Washington shared a story of a student that he had assisted recently. The student was noted for being late for his first block class and his grades were begin to suffer.
“We talked about the importance of being on time and how tardiness would eventually cost him. After we talked he seemed to have a better understanding of the importance of being on time. Since then his grades in that class have improved and he is rarely late any longer,” cited Washington.
The current Miss Union High School, Dasja Johnson, is a peer leader. She is a senior and this is her second year as a peer leader. She expressed that she likes to help people and being a peer leader allows her to help others.
“I had to deal with a person thinking about committing suicide. It was shocking. I did have to pass this information on to Mr. Hayes. But I talked with the freshman and told him that his life was worth something and that he had contributions to make in the world,” remarked Johnson. “The student was able to get help and is doing fine now. I think the home situation is going much better now,” added Johnson.
Johnson stated that PGC had helped her to be more comfortable speaking aloud in large group and makes her better skilled at going out to speak to people. She also added that she wished that PGC was available when she was a freshmen.
Another second year peer leader Maria Sandoval also shared that she would have loved to had the opportunity to be a part of the program as a freshman.
“So often as freshmen we have trust issues with each other and with people of authority like teachers. Through PGC I have learned ways to talk to adults and to build trust in others and I help share those traits with my freshmen. This program is very important and I think it is a great way to help not only the freshmen but the entire school,” added Sandoval.
Sandoval also assists with helping with translating for students and parents that may not speak English very well.
During the Parent’s Night program, the peer leaders and coordinators, provided a meal followed by a brief program that introduce all the peer leaders and explained what the PGC goals and expected outcomes were. The peer leaders had written and performed a short skit dealing with bullying, drugs and alcohol. The skit explained how we are all responsible for our lives and the decisions we make can and will affect others.
Through the efforts of PGC, both the freshmen and the peer leaders learn to be life-long learners and to take responsibility for their own lives and utilized the resources that are available to be successful and to obtain the goals they have set for their lives.
Members of the Union High PGC include: Jenna Dutton, Joey Gibbs, Hunter Burley, Shannon Melvin, Aneshia Brown, Dasja Johnson, Dulce Mejia, Zatasia Crumpler, Blanca Herrera, Donte’ Murphy, Maria Sandoval, Kaitlin Spell, BaySean Washington, Brianna Allen, Logon Hobbs, Elizabeth Perez, Kelsey Jernigan, Isaias Campos, Graciela Guzman and Brainna Seller.