How can American schools help more underserved youth strive for college and unlock better futures? It’s one of the biggest challenges facing educators today. For Fossil Foundation’s partner, PeerForward, the answer lies in harnessing a special power: peer influence.
For 20+ years, PeerForward (formerly College Summit) has worked with high school students to create better outcomes for their peers in low-income neighborhoods. It has now remodeled its core program and rebranded the whole organization to put peer influence front and center.
Each year, PeerForward trains and coaches new teams of “Peer Leaders” with the potentially life-changing mission of guiding their classmates to enroll in college and helping them navigate the intimidating admissions and financial aid process. We sat down with a few Peer Leaders to understand how they are becoming change agents in their classmates’ lives thanks to the PeerForward program.
Meet Peer Leaders Dionna, Asia, Noella and Jacob:
Senior, Age 18
Senior, Age 18
Senior, Age 17
Senior, Age 17
What does it mean to be a peer leader?
DIONNA: A peer leader is someone who motivates others to do more than what they can do for themselves. It’s motivating your peers to help them step out of their comfort zone.
ASIA: We’re kind of like the delivery men. We give our peers the information they need to be successful in the future.
NOELLA: It’s in the name itself. You have to be able to stand up for your peers around you. If nothing is getting done, you have to make sure that your responsibilities are fulfilled.
JACOB: A Peer Leader is a dynamic innovator and motivator. There are people that need guidance and the peer leader can help others become better people. We don’t want anyone to fail.
Why is it important for young people like yourself to be a peer leader?
NOELLA: Some students may not always be willing to rely on adults. It can feel like adults don’t know what you’re going through. But once you see a student that’s the same age as you in a higher position, they feel more comfortable relying on you because you’re going through the same thing they are.
JACOB: In my community, not many students really respect or listen to their elders because of their environment. But if they see a peer that’s headed in the right direction, you can talk to them and show them that they can do something better with their lives.
Can you describe a memorable moment that you’ve had as a peer leader? What happened?
ASIA: We hosted onsite admissions for a school that didn’t require SAT scores. One boy—who didn’t think he was going to get in—applied, got accepted, and even got a scholarship! We got about 40 students involved and excited about college that day.
JACOB: When our group helped at least 50 seniors sign up for FAFSA (Federal Student Aid) one night, that was a huge success! We didn’t know how many people would show up, so it became such a memorable moment to pass around this knowledge and see the number of people that were actually interested in utilizing our help.
How has being a Peer Leader changed you?
NOELLA: During freshman and sophomore year, I struggled with putting myself out there. PeerForward made me step up and put myself in a position where I needed to reach out, not only to the students, but to the faculty as well. Not only has it given me the leadership to help others and set an example, but it also helped me become more open with others and not afraid to speak up.
JACOB: Being a peer leader has helped me to mature – be more calm and patient with what I do. This process made me realize that you can’t be arrogant because people won’t want to listen to you. You have to genuinely get to know others in order to help them.
What advice do you have for young people?
NOELLA: Young people should always stay on top of their game because college and the workforce always expect something of you. You don’t want to regret not doing anything in high school or in life. Do what you want to do that benefits you and makes you happy.
JACOB: Keep pushing and keep believing, because there’s always a way to get where you want to go. Don’t let anyone stop you from getting you there.
DIONNA: Don’t slack off. If you feel you can do it in your heart, then do it. Also…deadlines are not suggestions!