Most teens are extremely interested in what their peers are saying and doing. A mentoring program leveraged this peer power and used high school students to create caring school communities that inspired students to show up.
A new report finds that over two years, a peer mentoring program led to improved attendance and moved the needle in academic outcomes for high school students. The mentoring program, known as Peer Group Connection (PGC), saw these improvements in low-income urban and rural communities throughout the U.S.
For 40 years, the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS) has promoted cross age peer mentoring through its PGC program. AT&T contracted with Westat Inc., an independent evaluator, to assess the effect on high school student outcomes of 30 projects implemented in schools across the United States. Two projects were focused on PGC.
Over 8,100 students were studied over a two-year period. These projects served a total of 32 schools: 28 high schools in high-need urban communities in Baltimore, Maryland and New York City; and four high schools in the high-need rural community of Sampson County, North Carolina. Key findings related to these two projects were:
- 9th grade students and peer leaders who participated in PGC attended school more often than non-participants. Across all communities, PGC participants attended school over six more days than non-participants.
- Increased attendance rates were sustained a full year after students completed PGC. The year after completing PGC, students attended between 2.4 and 7.8 more days of school than non-participants.
- 9th grade students who participated in PGC were on-track to graduate on time more so than were non-participants. This finding was sustained into 10th grade, one year after PGC participation.
- 9th grade students and peer leaders who participated in PGC exhibited a higher grade point average (GPA) than non-participants.
- The more time students spent participating in PGC, the better their academic outcomes.
“Peers are the greatest influence in an adolescent’s life,” says Jada Davis, former student peer leader from Baltimore’s Academy of College and Career Exploration, one of the schools included in the study. Jada is currently a teacher and PGC faculty advisor at The SEED School of Washington, D.C. “As a peer leader, I was able to help my peers deal with the challenges of high school. As a PGC advisor, I love watching my PGC students support their peers and seeing the incredible impact the PGC experience can have on young people,” Jada says.
Today over 180 schools nationwide are currently implementing PGC. Introduced by CSS in 1979, PGC trains carefully selected older students (11th and 12th graders in high schools; 8th graders in middle schools) to become peer mentors and serve as positive role models and group facilitators for younger students (9th graders or 6th graders). The peer mentors are trained as part of their regular school schedule in a 45-minute daily leadership development class.
Once trained, the peer mentors work in pairs to co-lead groups of 10 to 14 younger students in weekly sessions in which the younger students participate in engaging, hands-on activities in supportive environments.
PGC peer leaders learn to facilitate interactive, activity-based sessions such as Showing Up, in which they help their younger peers think about why showing up to school and attending class matters and how too many absences affect graduation. In Showing Up: Part 2, they take the conversation to the next level and explore what it means when students give school their full attention. Students are able to get something meaningful from the experience by being present and staying focused.
Throughout these sessions, students actively participate in engaging peer-led activities and dialogue. For example, an activity called Knowledge, Action, Power invites students to react to cards that contain powerful statements, symbols, and pictures that acknowledge road blocks to being present as a high school student and that also act as an invitation to address them.
“Time and time again, when we look at data and listen to the voices of students and educators, the need to strengthen relationships inside school buildings emerges as key for improved outcomes. And the need is clear, as our latest research shows that one in three young people grow up without a mentor outside their family,” says David Shapiro, CEO of the National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR), a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding quality youth mentoring relationships in the U.S.
“PGC is a valuable tool for schools wishing to address the relationship gap and strengthen school culture and students’ sense of belonging and purpose. The emerging evidence behind PGC points to a valuable strategy in closing this gap: the central role students can play as mentors and role models for their peers,” Shapiro says.
Margo Ross is the Managing Director of Communications & Development for the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS).
Download the report, In School and On Track to Graduate.
Founded in 1979, the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS), is a national organization and its work currently impacts 45,000 students annually. For more information please visit www.supportiveschools.org.