Senior reflects on Peer Group preparation and retreat

Courtesy of Devika Kumar

Courtesy of Devika Kumar

Devika Kumar, Contributing Writer

A major part of every PDS Upper School student’s experience is participation in the Peer Group program, whether as a freshman learning to navigate high school or as an experienced senior mentor. This class meets every week and provides a place for freshmen to learn about high school from their peers, hence the name, as well as ease into this transition. Freshmen are introduced to various topics throughout this course, from bullying to stress management. The strength and power of this program comes from the fact that the leaders are speaking from personal experience, whether they discuss tough classes, extracurriculars, or relationships, allowing these lessons to be relatable and accessible to these newest members of the Upper School community.

Before the freshmen entered the halls of PDS, the Peer Group leaders were already busy meeting during the summer in order to prepare for the upcoming year. This training included a retreat, along with other events. Here is my experience preparing for Peer Group:
My heels hang off the edge of the stage, and I interlace my fingers and keep my body still until Peer Group Faculty Adviser Donna Zarzecki nods, signaling me to start the commands. I’m supposed to say “ready,” but I wait because my fellow Peer Group leaders might not be prepared. I can’t look back to check so I take a deep breath and say “ready” even though I keep thinking: do I really trust these people with my life?

“Ready,” 20 voices respond.
“Ready to fall?” I ask.
“Fall away!”
Everyone is silent. All I hear are my staccato heartbeats and those worst-case scenarios bobbing around the walls of my head, begging me to either get off the stage or just fall back. So I close my eyes, clench my teeth, stop thinking, and fall.

Of course, my friends caught me, and everyone else, with ease and confidence. Looking back now, there was really no logical reason to doubt that they would. But, logic evaporates in those crucial moments before handing your fate over to others. This activity was physical proof of our bonding and the trust we built.

Yes, we did more than those “cliché trust falls” on the retreat. We played competitive games, talked, and seriously reflected on who we are and who we want to be as individuals. By sharing and listening, we began to understand each other deeply, surprising ourselves with how little we really knew and how much we thought we knew about each other. We reconnected with old friends and made new ones. In short, we came as 21 individuals and left as a team.

Throughout the weekend our Peer Group Faculty Advisers, including Upper School English teacher Tom Quigley, health and physical education teacher Jill Thomas, and middle school math teacher Ms. Zarzecki, led by example, showing us how to be successful leaders. This training carried to our first day back at school; we felt new weight on our shoulders walking around the halls of PDS, knowing that we had become official leaders in the community. Consequently, we had to face a whole array of new challenges, ranging from maintaining the right classroom dynamic to grappling with self-awareness and public perception, all while remembering that although we’re the ones “in charge,” we can learn just as much from the freshmen as they can from us.

Although we, as leaders, will still be learning and improving, our focus remains on the freshmen and their first experiences at PDS. We exist to ensure that freshmen feel safe, welcome, and happy at PDS; our own growth is just an important bonus.

Class of 2019, we are going to have a great year together!