What it means to be a peer leader


Chelsea Friedman (left) with Peer Leader Emily Livshits (right). Photo taken by a SHS Photo student.

Melissa Ellin and Nya Perry

Solon High School (SHS) has always had the option for students to become Teacher Assistants (TA’s), but this year they have redesigned the TA program into a more structured one called Peer Leading.

The former program was steered more towards giving teachers a helping hand, but it has shifted to prioritize communication with students. Now, the assistants help students with homework, classwork and overall course concepts whereas before they would mostly grade papers.

“The focuses of the program is more to work with kids, whereas before, they were working more to assist the teachers,” SHS Assistant Principal, Carla Rodenbucher said.

To teachers, having an extra hand to help not only benefits them as a teacher but acts as a support system for their students, which is something that can’t be replaced.

“It is nice to have that extra person, as a mentor to my students [my peer leader] has been invaluable,” Kelly Fishman, SHS teacher said. “She is always willing to answer questions and help push them to go further.”

At the same time, the teachers are not the only ones benefiting from the aid. The students within the course are able to form relationships with the peer leaders, allowing them to improve their understanding of the course work.

“They help construct a healthy learning environment for many students, allowing them to be more focused and effective,” SHS sophomore Erin Clay said.

Since the school year is coming to an end, Rodenbucher sent out a survey to teachers to determine how helpful the Peer Leader program actually was. She disclosed that multiple teachers, when asked what they liked about the program, specified factors such as leadership skills for students, inspiring students for new career paths and getting to know the student on a more personal level.

As a Peer Leader, Livshits thinks that being the position has made her realize what she would like to do in her future, and it gives students a good idea of what it is like in a teacher’s shoes.

“Being a peer leader helped me decide on being a psychologist because of the class I was a Peer Leader for,” Livshits said. “I also think this program is a good opportunity to experience what it’s like to be like a teacher.”

In addition, despite the fact that Livshits career path doesn’t involve teaching, she believes the skills Peer Leaders learns from their teacher mentor can aid in any students life. Specifically, she observed the difference amongst students, and how they interacted with their work. While some students would check answers, others would reach out for help, which taught her how to enhance her own study habits as a student.

“It’s benefitted me as a student because I learned, by helping others, I was relearning the information myself, so I remembered the concepts more,” Livshits said. “I also found out ways I could help myself learn through helping students.”

Not only that, but the direct implications of being a Peer Leader, assisting students in their course work, has taught her valuable lessons about volunteering and compassion.

“I think helping people in general is a good thing to do,” Livshits said. “With a program like this it gives you an opportunity to help people, but in a different aspect, but I think in any way, helping others and learning while helping others can benefit you in any situation.”

Clay attested that the help she gained from her peer leader has been pivotal in her education. While a teacher may not have the time to attend to each individual students, a peer leader can step in.

“They help me when I’m stuck with difficult questions and when I need to know the definitions of words I don’t understand,” Clay said.

The process of becoming a Peer Leader is done twice within the school. SHS staff sends out information to students asking who would like to be a peer leader in May at the end of the previous school year. Any student interested would go to the SHS website and go to School Counseling to fill out a form. The second time that an announcement is made is at the end of the first semester.

According to Emily Livshits, a SHS Peer Leader, when filling out the form, an applicant can specify a teacher and subject, but it is not guaranteed that he or she will get what they want. The class and teacher depends on the student’s schedule and whether it fits, or if you’ve taken the class previously.

In August, after a student fills out the form, they are then matched up with a teacher who has also requested a Peer Leader. A student can choose to be with a teacher in the first semester, the second semester or both semesters. Peer Leaders get 0.25 credit and are required to write 2 journal entries per month about new experiences and goals.

Based on this year’s success, the program will continue into next school year. It is Rodenbucher’s hope that it will even be able to expand its reach amongst the SHS community.

“[One vision] is to expand the program as much as possible,” Rodenbucher said. “To expand to our special areas, expand it to other classrooms who are interested in having a peer leader, expanding and get more and more kids who want to join. Who want to give back to our school, who want to be helpful and help other students learn, that’s really what the focus is about this program.”