Why do our peer leaders care so much?

I get asked all the time: Do you pay your Peer Leaders? The answer is not only “No” but also “And they never ask to be paid.” This perplexes most people: “You mean to tell me you ask rising high school seniors to leave their homes, travel to a college campus, engage in four days of morning to night training, return home, recruit rising 11th-graders and then run three school-wide campaigns to influence their classmates to pursue higher education? How does that work?”

My response is to answer the question with a question. Actually, a couple of questions. Why doesn’t the football team asked to be paid? Or the cheerleading squad? Or the marching band? Or the cast of the senior class play? And why aren’t we similarly befuddled that high school jocks, thespians, acrobats and musicians don’t ask to be paid? Indeed, why is it that student engagement is an issue in the classroom but not on the playing field or basketball court or the auditorium? Every high school is full of examples of activated students – just not in the halls of academe.

The same incentives that drive student athletes and performers drive PeerForward Peer Leaders:

  1. They are part of something bigger than themselves.
  2. We keep score. Peer Leader teams win when they increase the number of their classmates who become eligible for financial aid and apply to college and go to college.
  3. Fossil has designed the coolest t-shirts, baseball caps, and backpacks in the college access business.
  4. They are accomplishing something of significance that becomes part of school history and culture.
  5. They are connected to a professional class. As high school football players are part of the continuum of the sport that extends to the NFL, our Peer Leaders are connected to the world of effective citizenry and community organizing that extends all the way to major civil rights leaders.
  6. The skills they learn campaigns are universal and will apply to their careers.
  7. They are connected in a deep and authentic way to caring adults and coaches.
  8. They are part of a loving and inspired community of support who stick with them beyond graduation.
  9. The stories they will always get to tell.

In other words, PeerForward Peer Leaders are motivated by what motivates all adolescents: Peers, Power, and Purpose.

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