Peer Leaders returns to normal after pandemic school year

Aidan+Brown+and+Taejin+Beckerman+with+their+Peer+Leaders+group

Matt Lesnik

Aidan Brown and Taejin Beckerman with their Peer Leaders group

Sydney Kaul, Entertainment Editor and Staff Writer

For years at Bernards High School, Peer Leaders has been an amazing program that aids freshmen in succeeding and reaching their potential during this new chapter of their lives. Prior to COVID, groups would meet every Friday during their gym period where groups would participate in team bonding activities, ice breakers, and other character building tasks. These Peer Leader meetings have been  a safe space for freshmen to voice their concerns and fears about high school. It was a great way to ease the transition and ensure that freshmen learned how to handle this new lifestyle.

However, Peer Leaders, like every other aspect of our lives, was affected by COVID-19. During the 2020-2021 school year, the dynamic of Peer Leaders was completely changed to follow COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. The meetings were held virtually every Friday during instructional support time. The Peer Leaders worked as hard  to ensure that last year’s freshman still had the same opportunities previous years did. Members planned very similar activities, yet cameras were often always off and no one participated. 

Peer Leader Scarlett Campbell shares, “I would ask questions and try to start different conversations and no one would answer. It was a lot of peer leaders talking and no one answering back, so I found myself answering my own questions.” Evidently, last year’s freshman did not fully experience the peer leader environment nor did they learn or grow from it the way they are intended to. Campbell says, “peer leaders is meant to guide and help freshmen, it is a place where they can learn and ask questions. I know that the freshman did not gain nearly the same things I did as a freshman due to the unfortunate circumstances”.

With last year’s unfortunate outcome in mind, Mr. Kaplan and Mrs. Samson worked extremely hard to ensure that peer leaders would return to as normal as possible. They were eager and excited to return to their beloved program after a year of isolation. Mr. Kaplan wants to ensure that, like always, “peer leaders will be a ball of energy” this school year. While everyone would love to just jump back into normalcy and return to the old peer leaders, it is inevitable that there will be some adjustments to ensure the student’s safety and health. Some activities will be adapted and COVID protocols will be in full effect during the entirety of this year. 

Peer leaders is expected to return to its regular, traditional ways, being that the only regulations are social distancing and a mask mandate. Mr. Kaplan shares, “All activities from past years are on the table, but we will be working tirelessly to adjust them, so that they are safe.” To best respect and adhere to these guidelines, Mr. Kaplan and Mrs. Samson plan on gearing the focus of peer leaders to mental health. It is extremely important to address the students’ mental health and work to support them after the previous challenging year that the students faced. COVID and isolation challenged, and for many worsened, students’ mental health, which is why it has become the peer leader’s top priority to address these struggles and concerns as that is the entire purpose of this program. 

Peer Leader meetings will still be held every Friday during the students’ gym periods. Due to the newly implemented rotate-and-drop schedule some groups will meet on Thursday’s, if they drop their gym class on Friday.

Mr. Kaplan and Mrs. Samson, along with their team of peer leaders, are extremely grateful and excited to be back in the building for these meetings to truly give this year’s freshman the best learning and growth experience possible. Mr. Kaplan is ecstatic that we get to, once again, “work with the freshmen to make Bernards High School an even happier and healthier place than it already is.”