When freshman Alejandro G. arrived at Graded in January, he was extremely nervous. “Second semester of ninth grade. It could be tough, but I had a surprisingly good transition,” he recalled.
Alejandro quickly made new friendships through Peer Group Connection (PGC), a program led by seniors who mentor freshmen as they transition from middle to high school. PGC is a longstanding tradition at Graded. Groups of 12 to 15 freshmen and two senior leaders meet weekly to discuss topics and participate in activities. Theory of Knowledge teacher Maggie Moraes and physical education teacher Carolina Serra advise the group. Discussion topics include academics, social life, mental health, decision making, and healthy eating.
“They [senior leaders] give you a lot of advice about high school,” affirmed freshman Marina S. “But it eventually becomes more of a friendship than a mentorship.”
For both seniors and freshmen, PGC groups are a safe space in which students can open up about what is happening in their lives. “You learn a very important value, which is trust, and as you open up to others, you end up seeing that you aren’t the only one going through struggles, or that you aren’t the only one excelling, and that others have been through that before. I think that helps ground you,” said senior Thomaz M.
While PGC shapes the freshman experience, seniors leaders also grow in the process. “We learn to get in touch with ourselves. We learn the best way to be there for somebody, which often involves being okay with yourself,” said senior Emma T. “It’s about building your own self first to be able to give good support to someone else.”
During the annual August PGC Leader Retreat, senior leaders explore and identify their strengths and weaknesses. They interview each other, discussing one another’s qualities and visions for the group.
Thomaz knew that organization and planning skills weren’t his best qualities. He found these abilities in his co-leader Kecy. “She had fantastic insights, and we were able to complement each other.”
For Isabela P., also a senior leader, the PGC experience has strengthened her leadership skills. As editor-in-chief of The Talon, the school’s student-led newspaper, she has to be assertive. “You learn that you don’t always have to be adored by everyone and that people aren’t going to stop liking you because you disagree.”
Leading a PGC outreach group is an immense commitment. Seniors diligently prepare and test activities, reflect upon the results, and provide support to their co-leaders. However, the responsibilities are far from burdensome. “It’s easy to do this because everyone is very excited about what they're doing and enthusiastic about creating a supportive environment,” added Isabela. “It’s also incredible that you can form such close, meaningful relationships with each other in such a short amount of time.”
According to faculty adviser Maggie Moraes, an immediate outcome of PGC is the interest seniors exhibit in applying for leadership positions in college. Moraes beamed proudly. “They become residence advisors or leaders in outreach programs. They explicitly say that PGC has helped them develop and exercise different leadership styles.”
After this year's annual PGC Leader Retreat, many freshmen approached their leaders, expressing interest in becoming PGC leaders themselves. “You feel like you are leaving some sort of legacy or that you’ve inspired someone, and that’s something quite powerful and very special,” said Emma.