Minuteman’s Peer Leadership Program Flourishes Despite Pandemic

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Minuteman High School students Annalise Linden of Waltham and Day Kolz of Wayland craft hearts and other decorative items for the school’s Kindness Week that was held in February.

The following information was provided by Minuteman High School, and was written by Judy Bass:

During the spring closure caused by the pandemic, students in Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School’s Peer Leadership Program continued to find ways to stay connected and serve as role models for younger students.

The program is one of many activities beyond the classroom that encourages students to cultivate their maturity, sense of responsibility and character in ways that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

“The students gain a sense of why it’s important to make positive connections with people,” said English teacher Terri O’Brien, who is a co-advisor of the Peer Leadership Program. “We put a lot of emphasis on the idea that they can create the culture of the school through their example. The Peer Leaders provide freshmen with strong and stable mentor relationships that will positively influence their experience and development.”

During the closure, Peer Leaders began a “Connect2Community Clubhouse” where students were able to connect to their classmates virtually with those who shared similar career interests. The junior Peer Leaders facilitated conversations with freshmen that provided a much-needed space to connect with one another.

“Terri and I decided four years ago that a program like ours was essential,” said Anita Currier, a culinary arts instructor and co-advisor of the group. “Our model has evolved organically. Each year, we try new activities and ways to get kids together. We also process student feedback about what they thought was successful, and more importantly, what was not successful.”

Near the end of each school year, an assembly is held for sophomores about being a Peer Leader when they are juniors. As a result of a virtual process, more than 30 students were selected as Peer Leaders for the upcoming school year. (Names are listed at the bottom of this article.)

“The characteristics we look for in potential Peer Leaders are empathy, positive attitude, integrity, and kindness,” Currier said. “This year and moving forward, we are emphasizing flexibility and adaptability, given the unpredictable circumstances involving on-campus and involving remote-learning scenarios.”

The Peer Leaders will help incoming ninth graders feel more at home and smoothly integrate them into the school community. This is accomplished through both planned events and brief, casual encounters in hallways, the cafeteria, and other locations on campus wherever students mingle. One of next school year’s Peer Leaders says she had a rewarding experience with a Peer Leader as a freshman.

“I remember how scared I was to go to a new high school with people I had never met before,” said Sofia Stiller of Arlington, a Health Assisting major, who said a letter she received from a Peer Leader helped her feel welcome. “When I came to Minuteman, I felt as if she had my back and if anything happened, I could talk to her. It would be an honor if I can do that for another person.”

The Connect2Community Clubhouse was modeled after an informal, relaxed weekly luncheon with Peer Leaders, ninth graders and teachers, which was called, “Connect2Community.” The lunch was held in Minuteman’s student-run restaurant, The District.

Other notable initiatives handled by the Peer Leaders last year included the second annual Career Choice Day Celebration to note the landmark day that Minuteman’s freshmen chose their career major, and the Week of Kindness card-making event held during Valentine’s Day week when anyone in the Minuteman community could visit a table set up in the school’s Student Union to create a greeting card with a thoughtful message of kindness and inclusion.

“The seeds that have been planted with our students and they continue to grow, and that’s so great,” O’Brien said. “They get a feeling of pride and responsibility for improving the culture of the school and spreading the love. That’s really what it’s about – embracing and spreading a spirit of kindness and helpfulness and gratitude to each other.”

The eleventh-grade Peer Leaders during the 2019-20 year included: Hannah Bardei of Arlington, Jillian Bearden of Arlington, Brenna Bell of Middleton, Zoha Bibi of Watertown, Amanda Birenbach of Acton, Jake Brosnan of Arlington, Kyliegh Cabral of Winchester, Morgan Calverley of Wayland, Faith Daley of Watertown, Samuel Danna of Needham, Maria DeFreitas of Watertown, Arianna DiGiacomo of Waltham, Nathan Doherty of Lancaster, Patricia Farwell of Watertown, Isa Figueiredo of Arlington, Colleen Foley of Arlington, Luciano Garreffi of Lancaster, Izadora Goncalves of Watertown, Liberty Jacobs of Belmont, Lucy Kitchenka of Belmont, Day Kolz of Wayland, Sophia Krain of Arlington, Anneliese Linden of Waltham, Lily Love of Watertown, Sam Mentor of Everett, Eva Mabboux of Arlington, Teagan O’Connor of Bolton, Alex Ostrowski of Carlisle, Asher Pearlmutter-Bearson of Arlington, Vianavi Romano of Lincoln, Sarah Stone of Arlington, Erin Terrett of Lexington, Erik Thacker of Lancaster, Luke Thacker of Lancaster, Darya Updegraph of Arlington, Ellie Vail of Arlington, and Grace Walsh of Lancaster.

The rising juniors who will be Peer Leaders for the 2020-21 year include: Samuel Albers of Arlington, Maxim Allor of Arlington, Haris Ansari of Stow, Marwa Alwaz of Watertown, Henry Blackburn of Needham, Sarah Buchieri of Lancaster, Zoe Callahan of Arlington, Trinity Choroszej of Arlington, Maria-Elduarda DaSilva of Arlington, Sophia DaSilva of Arlington, Berkley DiBiase of Arlington, Dylan Higgins of Acton, Katerina Holbrook of Bedford, Hannah Jelinsky of Acton, Samantha Kerr of Stow, Evan Long of Needham, Layla Lubin of Concord, Lillian Mela of Lexington, Grace McNiff of Concord, Kole Murawski of Belmont, Taranvir Pabla of Lexington, Eleanor Silvadurso of Arlington, Nicholas Soukaras of Acton, Sofia Stiller of Arlington, Stuart Strong of Concord, Ella Taibi of Lexington, Lea Torres of Stow, Keith Traywick of Acton, Alton Winkler of Concord, Samuel Zachary of Lexington, and Andrew Zeng of Acton.

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