Comprised of 118 Marist students, the Peer Leader Program welcomes new students into the Marist family and helps them adjust to their new school. Peer Leaders serve as role models and friends to new students, leading them through orientation and offering support throughout a student's first year at Marist.
Through a competitive application and selection process, juniors and seniors are chosen to serve as Peer Leaders. Each is assigned one to three new students. They connect with their assigned new students over the summer, organize a group pre-orientation activity, and spend a day in a small group setting with them during orientation before school begins. Peer Leaders continue building relationships with their students throughout the year by talking with them before or after school and by planning social activities on weekends. While one planned social activity per month is required, many Peer Leaders go far beyond that minimum expectation. Additionally, Peer Leaders help celebrate birthdays and other special days throughout the year.
Campus Minister Mrs. Bernadette Naro, who co-manages the Peer Leader program with Ms. Caroline Belden '12, described the theological foundation of the Peer Leader program, explaining it is not about onboarding or assimilation but rather “how we build a place where everyone belongs.” Mrs. Naro added, “Displaying ‘Radical Hospitality’ is how we bring about belonging and how every student can feel like they truly belong as their authentic self at Marist.”
Recently, Mrs. Naro and others from Campus Ministry took Peer Leaders off campus for a day training at Sojourn Adventures at Perimeter Church. Campus Ministry worked with Marist’s Director of Inclusion & Diversity Ms. LaRita Williams and Ms. Cat Moore, a consultant who is the director of belonging at the University of Southern California, to help shape the training sessions. The day included team building exercises and small group work, drawing upon participants’ own experiences as new students at Marist and offering opportunities for reflection on moments when they did or did not feel “Radical Hospitality.” Ms. Williams also led anti-bias trainings for the group about realizing our biases and welcoming new students as they are.
In collaboration with the Office of Inclusion & Diversity, Peer Leaders also have gone through trainings with Fearless Dialogues, cultural competency experts working with Marist to help advance a culture of openness at the school. Students participated in three different sessions with Fearless Dialogues which included safe spaces for students to share openly about different topics. Through these sessions, students learned to affirm and listen to each other.
For Ann Ellis Bowen ’22, the Peer Leader program has been one of her favorite aspects of student life at Marist because of how rewarding it is and how it brings together the kindest people on campus. She shared, “On the retreat training day, I felt so included during every game and every conversation, which is how I hope to make my own ‘Peer Kids’ feel as they enter Marist. The program does a great job of preparing us to welcome new students, and it teaches us about anti-bias and compassion, which can be applied to our everyday lives.”
Lila Bucko ’22 started in the program last year. She said, “I liked it so much that this year I decided to become a GLC—grade level coordinator—who leads not only new students but Peer Leaders as well. The Peer Leader program has provided me ways to connect with other grades. I have made so many friendships and relationships through the program with teachers, families, new students, and fellow students.”
Carter Rosales ’22 also enjoys being a Peer Leader. He explained, “The program aims to remove all the stresses of being a new student…Walking in on the first day with your Peer Leader is almost like walking in with your big brother and your best friend, just not as embarrassing.”
He added, “The Peer Leader program is really something special—the moderators are amazing, the relationships formed are strong and lasting, the sense of community is pervasive, and the opportunity to be a role model for a new student who will one day be in our same shoes has been one the greatest experiences I have been involved in during my time at Marist. The impact that this program has on our community, both on and off campus, demonstrates the importance of our goal to make every new student, no matter what grade, feel at home and welcome on our campus.”
Through the Peer Leader program and other experiences in and beyond the classroom, Marist School provides invaluable opportunities for Marist students to serve others, “be Marist,” and become the faith-filled, global-ready servant leaders of tomorrow.