Freshmen and seniors connect through the Peer Leadership program

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The bond between freshmen and seniors grows stronger in the 2018-2019 school year through improvements to the Peer Leadership program.  From lifers to students who entered the Sacred Heart Greenwich community as freshmen, 30 qualified and passionate seniors commit their time to help the freshmen assimilate into the Upper School through their role as peer leaders.
Beginning in August, the senior leaders attended the Camp Jewell YMCA bonding trip with their freshmen “peerlings” for the first time.  Bonding activities filled the overnight trip to encourage community among the freshman as well as to foster a connection within the 11-person peer groups. Traditionally, the groups consist of three seniors and eight freshmen.

Peer leaders gathering with their peerlings at the outdoor amphitheater. Courtesy of Miss Karen Panarella

Senior peer leader Megan Maher reflected on the connection she made with her peerlings before the start of the school year at Camp Jewell.  She also was able to gain insight from her sister, freshman Amy Maher, on the effectiveness of the trip.
Camp Jewell helped us to get to know the girls before school started, which I felt was very helpful because the beginning of freshman year can be very stressful,” Megan said.  “Also, Amy explained to me how she appreciated the opportunity to meet her peer leaders before the year began so she had some upperclassmen she was comfortable asking for help.”
Twice in the eight-day-cycle, the senior leaders gather at 7:20 a.m. before school with Upper School Dean of Students and Yearbook Moderator Miss Karen Panarella and Upper School Assistant Dean of Students Ms. Maura O’Grady to discuss how each peer group is doing, plan new activities, and develop skills to connect with the freshmen.  In October, the senior leaders gathered at one of their morning meetings to plan this year’s annual Peer Leadership scavenger hunt.
The group spent the morning coming to a consensus on seven new activities for the groups to do on the hunt.  Some of the activities included taking a picture with Head of Upper School Mrs. Jennifer Bensen, taking a photo in the Broadcast Journalism suite, and going in the athletics center ice bath.
Senior peer leader Grace Thompson shared her thoughts on the significance of the scavenger hunt, and how it served as a catalyst to have the freshman feel at home in the Upper School.
“I was new to Sacred Heart when I joined the Upper School freshman year,” Grace said.  “I remember the scavenger hunt being a great way to explore parts of the Upper School I was unfamiliar with.  It is also an exciting way for 9th graders to start connecting with new faculty.”
A peer leadership group visiting the David J. Bloom Broadcast Journalism Suite during the scavenger hunt. Karina Badey ’19

Once every eight school days, the groups meet in their assigned rooms during a Peer Leadership block in their schedules to catch up and talk about their “highs and lows” of the week.  These regular meetings are an opportunity for the seniors and freshmen to come together in a relaxed setting to talk about and work through what they are struggling with, whether it be academically or socially.
Senior Grace Danahy expressed how she believed regular cycle meetings are vital to connecting with the freshman class.  She believes that the student-run environment removes the fear between underclassmen and upperclassmen, and is a unique factor that makes Sacred Heart a strong community.
“Both of my older sisters were peer leaders when they attended Sacred Heart, so I have learned a lot of valuable skills from them regarding bonding with girls three years younger than me,” Grace said.  “My goal is to utilize the 55 minutes we have each week to create a tight bond and safe space among our small group, and have the freshmen feel like they are a true member of the Upper School community.”
– Karina Badey, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor
Featured Image by Karina Badey ’19