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Students guiding students through Peer Group Connection

Empowering high school program creates connections, comforts and leadership - and improves attendance 

A new school, new classmates, and high expectations. Freshman year of high school can certainly be daunting! Whether it’s getting used to challenging coursework, new social situations, different schedules or school requirements, students entering ninth grade need support to navigate their new situation. 

At Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts - as well as at 10 other City Schools - that support is provided to new students by their peers. Through the Peer Connection Program (PGC), Augusta Fells juniors and seniors are serving as mentors for dozens of incoming freshmen by meeting with them bi-weekly to help them get acquainted and adjusted to the school and to life in high school. 

“PGC has helped me break out of my shell and practice socializing with ninth graders,” says senior and peer leader Ryan Lambert. Ka’Bria Williams, another peer leader, agreed. “PGC has been a great experience for me. I get to talk to kids I wouldn’t normally talk to, help our ninth graders open up and plan fun activities for them to enjoy.”

PGC stems from Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts’ and the district’s intentional focus on supporting and prioritizing 9th graders, who are at a critical juncture in their path to graduation. More than 10,000 students have participated over the course of PGC’s 10-year history.

“The program is a huge boost to all participants,” explained Cara Cassell, Augusta Fells Educational Associate. “It gives freshman role models to aspire to while building a sense of community in a safe space where questions, challenges, and uncertainties are explored in a group of supportive peers. Students are being heard, and they're growing in the process.” 

At the same time, the mentors themselves are building important leadership skills by leading groups, supporting peers, and problem solving - all while expanding their self-and-social confidence. Peer Leaders attend an elective course twice a week to explore mentorship and what it means to be a good leader. They craft Peer Group Connection sessions with meaningful activities for their mentees - from icebreakers and games like “question bag” (with questions about high school) to group problem solving exercises and prompts that encourage sharing. 

According to Ebony Knight, College & Career Coordinator at Augusta Fells, the impact of the program is significant. “After the pandemic, we noticed a lot of social anxiety - even among our seniors. But this program helped build confidence and break down those barriers for students.” 

In addition, the program is contributing to increases in attendance. Attendance rates of ninth grade students participating in PGC were up to 9 percent higher than attendance rates of ninth grade students prior to program implementation. And the promotion rates of ninth-grade participants was up to 50 percent higher than promotion rates before the program. Attendance rates since the implementation of PGC have also  grown for 12th graders, whose role in planning outreach sessions, community service projects and activity days for younger students has strengthened the school community. 

To learn more about the Peer Group Connection program, click here.

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