A recent scavenger hunt on Hamden Hall Country Day School’s campus wasn’t just an afternoon of fun and adventure for the six groups of participating freshmen.
Instead, it was an exercise in group-building and social bonding – and yes, fun! – led by 12 seniors who are the school’s 2012-2013 Peer Leaders.
Hamden Hall’s Princeton Peer Leadership Program was established nearly a quarter of a century ago to offer freshmen a year-long high school orientation and social mentoring opportunity administered by their peers – 12 specially selected seniors known as Peer Leaders.
The program acts as a springboard for the seniors, offering them real-world approaches and problem-solving mechanisms that launch their roles as future community and global leaders.
“This is the most well-developed program of its kind in the country and we are coming up on our 25th year,” said Peer Leadership Advisor John Greenawalt. “We have a highly academic version of the Princeton Peer Leadership Program where each quarter in our five-day-a-week class, seniors work through a major leadership skill unit and are assigned a paper or project related to leadership.”
Greenawalt further credited the program with being the answer to the proverbial question, “When will I ever use this in real life?”
“We teach real-world, social-emotional skills and approaches that set our seniors up for future leadership positions,” he said.
This year’s Peer Leaders are Alessandro Chiodo of Woodbridge, Lauren Collins of Branford, Jamie DeNicola of Hamden, Sydney Dinkelooof Hamden, Sydney Doolittle of Milford, Avery Giorgio of Madison, Paige Greger-Moser of Hamden, Nicholas Linta of Branford, Daniel Reynolds of Wallingford, Joseph Sapiente of Seymour, Dimitri Skuret of Woodbridge and Alexandra Walz of East Haven.
Peer Leader Daniel Reynolds said he has gleaned much from the program, including a new ease for public speaking.
“For me, I never really felt comfortable speaking in front of large groups,” said Reynolds. "Now, because of the freshman discussion groups that I help facilitate, I am much better about it and I really believe it’s advantageous and a great trait to be taking to college.”
Peer Leader Dimitri Skuret noted that the program sets the school apart because of the “bond it creates on campus.”
“Here in our Hamden Hall community, freshmen have the confidence to become friends with anyone on campus,” he said. “This is a vigorous course where there are many projects we take on that bring us closer to our peer groups but also help us grow as individuals.”
Each year, 12 seniors are chosen through a highly selective process and begin their journey as freshman mentors. Leadership potential, an interest in personal growth, an ability to get along well with others and an overall diverse representation of the school community factor into the selection process.
“Peer Leadership is definitely one of my favorite classes because everything relates to my real life and future,” said Avery Giorgio. “We are able to learn skills such as leadership roles and time management that we can actually use in our futures and the college life that lies ahead of us.”
Peer Leaders commence their new roles in August with a three-day leadership training retreat, followed by a mid-year 24-hour refresher retreat. In between, Peer Leaders attend intensive daily training classes and preside over weekly freshmen discussion groups. The seniors partner with one another and discuss topics such as friendship, social and academic pressures and other peer-related issues with their freshman advisees.
“The Peer Leadership program develops and fosters the essential leadership roles and qualities that make the most effective leaders so successful. What makes this course so unique is the understanding that developing positive leadership traits isn’t something that can be done in a vacuum. As an alumni and a former Peer Leader myself, I speak from personal experience when I say this program changes lives,” said Peer Leadership Advisor Chase duPont.
The Princeton Peer Leadership Program is one of several Signature Programs that enhance the educational experience at Hamden Hall Country Day School, a PreSchool through Grade 12 coeducational college preparatory school that enrolls students from more than 35 communities throughout the state.
Other Signature Programs include the Science, Innovation & Design Program, Mystic Seaport Partnership and Haskins Reading Program.