Summer 2013
Sustainable Community

The Buddy System

Younger Students Connect to Prep Through Peer Counseling

For more than 20 years, Prep seniors have acted as peer counselors for 7th and 9th graders, serving as the all-knowing statesmen who show the younger students the ropes. From teaching them how to open their lockers and find their classrooms to helping them navigate midterms and lunch, the seniors play an important role in helping younger students assimilate into the Prep community. It’s a program that has transformed over the years, with Director of Human Development Michael Roffina helping it become a pointed and purposeful part of the guidance web at Prep. Students testify that they build relationships with their counselors that are maintained well beyond the 7th and 9th grade years.

Peer Counseling is an especially memorable part of the 7th grade experience. Many Prep students remember their first Book Day and being shepherded around the campus by “their senior.”These experiences account in large part for the high number of peer counselor applications each year.

Typically, twice as many students apply to be peer counselors as can be accommodated. Mentors are selected from interviews and recommendations, as well as on the strength of their applications.

Ninth Grade Dean Barrett Jamison, who teaches psychology to all the senior peer counselors, says students are eager to return to a program that they remember had a big impact on their time at Prep.

“They all had a peer counselor and talk about how important it was for them,” he says. “In turn, it’s rewarding for them to be ambassadors for their school.”

Their training begins in the spring of junior year, and then peer counselors are assigned a group of six to eight incoming 7th or 9th graders. Over the summer, the seniors meet with their group a few times—they might take them out for pizza or organize a bowling party. The seniors help Prep’s youngest students, anxious about starting a new school full of unknowns, with academics, social situations and everything in between.

The program has rewards for everyone. Seniors take on real responsibility and give back to the community that nurtured them into positions of leadership. Younger students meet a group of classmates and at least one 12th grader before school begins.

Seventh Grade Dean Betty Urban says new students have a greater sense of ease when they start school.

“By their first day in class, they are feeling pretty comfortable with each other and the campus,” she says. “A peer counselor gives the younger students a non-threatening person to come to with questions. They learn the values of the community not from an adult, but from a student who’s living it.”

Throughout the year, peer counselors meet with their groups twice a month. They talk about a wide range of things, from adjusting to school and time management to bullying and midterm exams. The peer counselors go on the 7th and 9th grade trips (see page 6) and continue to be available throughout the year.

Julia Pinney ’16 says, “I definitely appreciated my 7th grade peer counselor. It was so fun when we met with them.”

Nicholas Davis ’18 adds, “I know I can always go to my peer counselor if I have questions.”

Chase Gilbertson ’16, who started Prep in 9th grade, says her peer counselor was a helpful mentor.

“She was nice and sweet and helped with social things and academics. At midterms, she made up goodie bags for us,” Gilbertson says. “She gave us a good window into senior year—she’s pretty well connected to the school, so we can get a glimpse of how we might be as seniors.”

Dean of Students Midge Kimble saw the system at work when a 9th grade student got in trouble and sought advice from his peer counselor on how to make amends.

“That exemplifies the school’s mission,” Kimble says. “Through peer advising, students learn from each other the importance of personal responsibility.”

by Mel Malmberg