Moving Forward with Peer Leadership

By any measure, this past month has been monumental for our organization. We changed our name to PeerForward. We co-hosted with Facebook Education a first-of-its-kind convening of youth activators, educators, nonprofit leaders, and researchers at Facebook headquarters. And we began to see fantastic  year-end results from our partner schools.

Since 1993, when JB Schramm and I ran a weekend college planning retreat in the basement of the Jubilee Teen Center, we have experienced so many exciting milestones and led or contributed to significant achievements in the pursuit of educational equity. For instance, I remember the exact spot I was in 2009 when I got the call that President Obama had decided to share his Nobel Peace Prize with College Summit; I recall the dim, concrete dorm room I occupied at Connecticut College when we ran the first residential workshop in 1995; and I can see the breakfast table where I read the article in the New York Times heralding College Summit’s business model as a breakthrough in nonprofit management.

This past month will also stick in my mind with the same order of magnitude and sort of sensory precision as one of the moments in our history where everything changed and our notion of what is possible expanded. This past month for us was like looking through a camera and adjusting the lens aperture to the largest f-stop, widening our scope and flooding our field with light. In our case, the light is the power of students to create and drive solutions for their communities and schools and the scope is the capacity for scaling systemic change when we put the kids in charge.

So look with me, if you will, through the lens of this post. This past month we changed our name to PeerForward to sharpen the focus on the power of positive peer influence. The research literature has long identified peer effects that drive school outcomes. PeerForward harnesses and structures these effects through on-going coaching and training of high school juniors and seniors. To broadcast our new name and to shine a spotlight on the underappreciated power of students, our new logo blazed over Times Square as Peer Leaders rang the NASDAQ trading bell. You can watch our Facebook Live interview here.

Then, a week later, we partnered with Facebook Education, Ford, Fossil, New Profit and Carnegie to host the first ever Youth Activation Summit at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park. Over the span of two days, 60 student leaders, 12 school districts, 13 non-profits and university researchers learned about the essentials of Youth Activation and made plans to implement its practice and mindset next fall.  I invite you to read more about this important launch of a national movement here.

As our partner schools begin to close out the year, we are delighted with the results our trained PeerForward teams have produced through their campaigns. Overall, a majority of seniors in PeerForward schools have successfully filed for financial aid and applied to a postsecondary institution, with 47% applying to three or more schools, which greatly improves eventual enrollment. Peer Leaders also have conducted more than 400 activities for students in grades 9-11 to help them connect career aspirations with the academic decisions made in high school.

Thank you for your support and interest. With power of the students, the partnership of adults, and the platform our nation’s schools, we know that the world can be and will be changed.

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