Lend a Helping Hand: Developing Student Leaders Through Peer-to-Peer Mentorship
As we prepare students to become 21st-century leaders and problem-solvers, it starts with the relationships they’re building with their peers. If children and teens can master the ability to develop positive relationships and involve themselves in mentorship, they will simultaneously gain social awareness, empathy for others, and strong leadership skills.
At Milton Hershey School, students begin developing these skills through a peer-to-peer mentorship program called Helping Hands. After applying for the program, providing references, and completing required training sessions, high school students spend time mentoring elementary students each week.
By providing opportunities for elementary and high school students to build connections, students teach each other important life lessons that are more meaningful when taught from a peer’s perspective.
Students help each other develop strong character.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum often includes character-building activities designed to help students develop integrity, honesty, empathy, and positivity. But how can we motivate students to apply these SEL skills in their everyday lives?
Peer-to-peer mentorship helps hold students accountable. When they respect their peers and care about how their actions affect one another, students are intrinsically motivated to apply their SEL skills to do the right thing.
Grace’s story: “One time, one of the elementary girls in the Helping Hands program made a bad choice that she knew would have consequences. Before I even realized she had done something she wasn’t supposed to, she came and told me. She made the choice to tell the truth before even being asked about it. It’s so amazing that a third-grader could have such integrity to make the right choice after making a wrong one.” –Grace, an MHS junior
Students learn how to build trustworthy relationships.
Through peer-to-peer mentorship, elementary students have a safe space where they learn what it means to trust others. They also gain stability when they realize older students are consistently spending time with them. Trust and stability are what help students of all ages build self-confidence and become comfortable expressing their emotions.
For high schoolers, mentorship programs also reveal the true level of responsibility and selflessness they need when investing in relationships—a social skill that will benefit them throughout life.
Hunter’s story: “I remember a time last year when the [younger] kids were begging me to stay for dinner. I had something else I had to do that evening, so I couldn’t stay. The kids were really bothered by that and got upset. That proved to me how much I really mean to those kids. I try to help them in any way I can.” –Hunter, an MHS senior
Students grow as leaders and role models.
In addition to building healthy relationships, volunteering as a mentor can help high school students learn about time management, self-awareness, problem-solving, and communication. As students expand on these skills and reflect on the type of role model they want to be, they develop leadership abilities. There’s nothing more powerful than giving students hands-on opportunities to lead through mentorship.
Wilson’s story: “I get satisfaction from seeing my kids mature and grow throughout the school year. I was once in their shoes, and being able to understand them and help them is special to me. I gain leadership skills by acting as a role model for them, and I gain some character skills as well.” –Wilson, an MHS junior
Students learn the importance of giving back.
Peer-to-peer mentorship is about building relationships in a supportive community. Whether high school students are helping their younger peers with homework or planning activities with them outside, they are actively giving back to their community and promoting a positive school culture.
Chloe’s story: “One of my favorite memories [from Helping Hands] is helping the younger students with their homework, watching them grow, and helping them finally be able to understand a subject better.” –Chloe, an MHS junior
Creating a supportive school environment takes the work of the entire community, but it’s the students themselves who can make the most noticeable impact. Peer-to-peer mentorship empowers students to consider the thoughts and emotions of the people around them, preparing the future generation of empathetic global leaders.