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Portledge in the Now.

Forging Leaders: The Portledge School Peer Leadership Program

by Francisco Lameiro, Assistant Director of the Upper School and Dean of Faculty
Discover how the power of teaching others ignites a sense of pride among educators and students alike.
The fondest joy of any educator is the pride they feel when their students exemplify their learning by leading the learning of others. In a sense, you know they really get it when they can teach it to somebody else.

Too frequently, we limit our thinking about education and learning to what happens within the four walls of a classroom space. There is good reason for this. Certainly, the core and heart of any traditional school is its nature as an academic institution. That said, to some degree, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and Algebra is Algebra. The unique expertise and charisma of our remarkable teachers notwithstanding, what sets Portledge apart from every other school lives in the how, not necessarily the what, of our daily business. 

Kindness, Purpose, Honor, and Respect are the pillars upon which our entire operation rests. They are also the characteristics and values that we most wish to instill in our students from the moment they set foot on our beautiful campus. They are the connective tissue that binds our outstanding student athletes to our remarkable scholar thespians; they are the weave that threads together our IB Diploma candidates and our accomplished musicians. 

As the Dean Team and various other members of our school community thought about how best to teach our students to value and exemplify these pillars, what became increasingly clear was that by the time students were entering their 11th and 12th grades, they’d pretty much picked up on the Portledge way. Hence, the students most in need of the teaching were those new to the school, whether in 9th grade or as transfers later in their journeys. Simply harping on these ideas was definitely not enough; we needed a way to get the new students really tapped into the essence of Portledge goodness.  

The challenge for the adults at Portledge was, essentially, to find ways to expediently and authentically connect our newest students to our existing student body; the degree to which we could do this successfully, we knew, was the exact same degree to which new students would learn to love this school and begin to grow in Kindness, Purpose, Honor, and Respect, themselves. 

Members of the Dean Team engaged in a research-based and strategic study process that involved investigations of what some other schools were doing successfully in this area of peer mentorship and leadership. We benefited from the expertise of others as we began in winter 2022-2023 to build what would become the Portledge School Peer Leadership Program (PPL). Eventually, we crafted a program founded on a core mission “to enhance the Upper School community by cultivating meaningful connections across grade levels.” Select juniors and seniors would help ease transitions for new students through structured support and guidance; in so doing, they would continue honing their own empathetic instincts and compassionate drives.

Rising juniors and seniors applied for entry into the program in spring 2023. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with over 75 students expressing interest in being included in the program. After a process that included a written application and various individual and group interviews, 30 members of the classes of 2024 and 2025 were selected as the inaugural Peer Leadership Group. Exemplars of the Portledge Pillars, these remarkable students began structured training sessions at the tail end of 2022-2023 school year; these sessions will continue in the summer and throughout our new school year as they begin forging connections with the small groups of students in their charge. We are so proud of these students and excited for their work ahead. They will represent our school at Admissions events, help bring to life the reflections that 9th graders undertake at the Blairstown retreat, and generally ensure that every member of the Portledge community feels seen, valued, respected, and connected from their first moment on campus.

As an educator, I am so proud to be experiencing yet another moment of immense joy as we build this wonderful platform on which our kids can step forward, share, and lead. The Portledge School Peer Leadership Program will be accepting new applications beginning in late winter and early spring 2024, and we’re beyond excited for what’s to come.

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