Every year, hundreds of influential high school and college students across the country take the PeerForward pledge to become Peer Leaders. The training that our students receive marks the beginning of a lifetime of leadership and service. During their time with PeerForward, Peer Leaders learn to play multiple roles in their communities:
1. Peer Leaders are mentors.
Veronica Oliveira, a Peer Leader at Broward College from 2020-22, embodies what it means to be a peer-to-peer mentor. In Veronica’s words, “a lot of the students that are at the college and are a part of our program – our mentees – come from families that may be struggling, and they may not have all the resources they need to be able to succeed in school. Once they get those resources from us and hear what we can do, you see their faces light up.”
Veronica describes one of her proudest moments as watching the hard work of a mentee pay off; after coaching a first-year student through his first job application with resume revisions and mock interviews, she celebrated the job offer with him.
Veronica also goes above and beyond to recruit new mentees, such as through her community work at Broward’s food distribution drives. “Not only are they getting food, I go ahead and let them know about our program and the mentorship that they could receive – and then their faces light up again.”
2. Peer Leaders are role models.
When students see their classmates persevering toward postsecondary success, it motivates them to achieve their own goals. Jaden Whitaker, a Peer Leader at Suitland High School, Maryland, explains what it means to her to be a role model at her school: “We will be a motivator for the people after us. We’ll help the seniors, but we’ll also help and inspire the younger classes. I want the juniors to see what we did and go even further.” The Suitland Peer Leader team has done just that, building on the success of last year’s class and setting the bar high for next year’s cohort by increasing the senior FAFSA completion rate by 6% and unlocking an estimated $1,447,600 in college aid.
Katherine Interiano’s experience as a Peer Leader at the Green Design Community School in Los Angeles has prepared her to be a role model in her future career as a nurse: “In nursing I’m going to meet new people, and here in PeerForward I’m meeting new people, getting to know them and being a role model. If I become a nurse, I’m going to be a role model to people just like I look up to people, like my nurse or a doctor.”
3. Peer Leaders are activists.
Peer Leaders know that to create a culture of postsecondary achievement, it is also essential to promote inclusivity and equitable access to resources in their communities.
At Friendship Technology Preparatory High School in Washington, D.C., all four senior Peer Leaders serve on the school’s Student Government Association, where they have become advocates for their classmates and community. In October 2021, they launched a campaign for access to safe drinking water at school. Latoya Harper, a Peer Leader and member of the SGA Senior Senate, reflected on her leadership goals: “The type of change I want to inspire in my community is the idea that all youth have the ability to be leaders and hold the skills needed to positively influence those around them.”
Za’Naiya Craig Williams, a Peer Leader at Performing Arts Community School in Los Angeles, is using her platform to promote mental health awareness and resources. In 2021, Za’Naiya launched a podcast with her school psychiatrist with the purpose of opening up conversations about mental health within her school. “Something that is very dear to my heart is mental health and mental support. I would like to help out my peers with it. I fell in love with being somebody’s safe space, with being that person that people can talk to and go to for advice.”