Dover High program eases freshmen transition

 

The senior members, or Peer Leaders, of Dover High’s Peer Group Connections program meet the morning of the Senators’ homecoming football game on Friday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

The senior members, or Peer Leaders, of Dover High’s Peer Group Connections program meet the morning of the Senators’ homecoming football game on Friday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — Many people have experienced that awkward time in their lives when they went from feeling like they were on top of the world in eighth grade to virtual anonymity as a freshman in high school.

This fall, Dover High School student counselors Shannon Gronau and Chris McGuire are trying to ease what can be an overwhelming transition for incoming Senators with their brand new Peer Group Connections program.

Mrs. Gronau and Mr. McGuire, who serve as Peer Advisors, have assembled a group of 18 senior Peer Leaders who interact with around 130 freshmen about any difficulties they may be facing while adjusting to a new environment and much larger, more populous school.

The counselors figured there wouldn’t be anyone better with offering advice to an incoming student than someone who has been in their shoes before.

A pair of Peer Advisors and 18 Peer Leaders make up Dover High School’s new Peer Group Connections program, which aims to make the transition to the new school as smooth as possible. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

A pair of Peer Advisors and 18 Peer Leaders make up Dover High School’s new Peer Group Connections program, which aims to make the transition to the new school as smooth as possible. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“I think it will be successful because it’s peer-on-peer,” Mrs. Gronau said. “These seniors are incredibly strong leaders. They are able to reflect on when they were freshmen only a few years ago and the different issues that came up for them, how they worked through it, what mistakes they made and how they were able to learn from that.

“I believe that the seniors feel a strong sense of responsibility and take this program very seriously. We are just in awe of how amazing these seniors are and how they have really stepped up to the plate.”

Mr. McGuire thinks the interaction between the seniors and freshmen actually has a positive impact on both groups — and not just the freshmen.

“It benefits both because the seniors want to leave a lasting impact on the ninth-graders so that way they can continue this leadership trend for years to come and impact the school for the next four-plus years,” he said.

With Peer Group Connections, at most meetings two or three Peer Leaders gather around in a circle with around 15 freshmen, who are called the “Mentees.”

The Peer Leaders open a discussion with ice-breaking exercises and try to get an open dialogue going with the Mentees in which they can help address any difficulties they are experiencing, whether it be social, academic or whatever other challenge might come up.

Peer Leader Grace Yeung said the program has been extremely fulfilling for her.

“We’ve given [freshmen] a class where they can comfortably speak about what they’re going through and what emotions they’re feeling because the transition is so difficult for them, especially when going to a big school such as Dover High where it’s sometimes difficult to get a personal connection with teachers and counselors,” Ms. Yeung said.

“Some students don’t have that kind of guidance at home. Some don’t have parents that are willing to speak to them about their struggles and challenges. I think this way we can also promote them to do well in school because when they’re feeling better on the inside, when they’re feeling confident and empowered, that is when they will do their best.”

Barry Jones, who also serves as a Peer Leader, wishes Dover High had a similar program like Peer Group Connections when he was a freshman.

After all, during Mr. Jones’ freshman year he attended school at the old Dover High building off Walker Road before making yet another transition during his sophomore year to the new Dover High School on Del. 8.

“I tell people all the time that it would have been great if I was a freshman and we had this program,” he said. “It would have made that transition a lot easier for me and it would have made the journey of finding myself a lot easier.”

Peer Group Connections at Dover High came about through a grant from the Center for Supportive Schools.

Designers of the peer program note that the path to dropping out of school begins for most students in ninth grade, as the transition to a new environment and the challenges of the curriculum often lead to widespread disengagement from the school and peers.

Mrs. Gronau said that is one of the things that Dover High’s new program is hoping to fix.

“Throughout the school year we do outreaches and those outreaches are pretty much different activities — mostly skill-building activities,” she said. “They help with different things like decision-making, communication skills, how to handle stress, time management … just a way for freshmen to kind of express themselves and talk about who they are and what issues they come across when they’re a ninth-grader.”

Dover High’s Peer Group Connections team got started with a three-day retreat last summer in Pocomoke, Maryland, in which the seniors received a bevy of information on to how to talk to the incoming freshman, the kinds of challenges they would be facing and just bonding together as a team.

“At the very end their task was to form together as a pair, so as a group we all had a conversation about who would be paired up with each other and we all kind of made that decision,” Mrs. Gronau said. “The pairs that came together — the two seniors that came together — worked out great.”

Mr. Jones admitted that participating in Peer Group Connections will look good on his college resume, but that isn’t the reason that he’s doing it.

“I do this program because I genuinely care,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to find your niche in high school and this program is definitely a way to make that easier.”

Mr. McGuire said he is just proud to see this group of seniors and how they have seized this leadership opportunity.

“I’ve had most of these students as a counselor since ninth grade, so to see their maturity and see their growth and their leadership ability transform and to see their eyes light up when they can impact a ninth grader has just been amazing,” he said.

Perhaps Ms. Yeung characterized the program best, saying, “I think we really become not only role models to the freshmen, but peers to them.”

Peer Group Connections members
Peer Advisors (counselors): Shannon Gronau, Christopher McGuire
Peer Leaders (students): Fransheska Acevedo; Justin Adewusi; Rochelle Alexander; Genevieve Banning; Tracey Brame; Janay Davis; Ana Flores-Suaza; Brionna Hill; Shantiyyah Hobby; Barry Jones; Jasmine Julian; Armani Kennedy; Merry Larochelle; Sara Poultney; Kyron Roberts; Alexis Stotler; Chloe Tackett; Grace Yeung

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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