Peer-to-Peer Education Project
Idea Leader: Brandon Clark
Location: Baltimore, MD
Partner Organization: New Lens
Project Summary: James Traynham, 20, and his peers at New Lens organized an interactive conference called “Education from the Ground Up” for 100 youth and adult allies. One solution idea from the conference became reality with the Peer Education Initiative. Interested high school students selected a topic they hoped to teach, received training on teaching skills and had the opportunity to lead their lessons in Baltimore City Schools.
Baltimore City Students Boost Learning Engagement in Schools through Peer Education
James Traynham and his peers at New Lens wanted to do something about the steep challenges Baltimore young people face in the public education system. They felt that although the City’s dropout rates have begun to show direly needed improvement, the fact that so many students feel disconnected in their schools poses a real threat to student attendance and success. New Lens young people envisioned that if students could come together around issues in their schools and begin to generate solutions, they would become more actively involved in their own education. They conceived the Peer2Peer Education Project to realize their vision. The group entered the AT&T America’s Promise My Idea Grant competition and were excited to be awarded $10,000 to organize a youth education summit and peer education initiative.
On Saturday, December 11 2010,100 youth and adult allies gathered at the “Education from the Ground Up” conference. Participants shared their school experiences and learned from the stories of others. Students expressed that they do not feel safe or supported in their schools. Group discussion unearthed that because subjects taught in schools are focused exclusively on standardized testing and are not relevant to the challenges students face outside of school, schools are not preparing students for success.
One solution students chose to implement was to create a peer education initiative. Young people felt that by having students teach in schools on topics important to them, it would offer a learning experience that students could relate to and enliven the school environment. As a result, students could become more engaged in learning, helping to reduce the desire to drop out. At the close of the conference, young people interested in becoming peer educators signed up for training.
In the following weeks, James and New Lens staff helped these students prepare to become peer educators. They assisted students in identifying issues they wished to teach around, creating lesson plans and practicing teaching skills. Young people chose a range of topics including bullying, college preparation, healthy relationships, homophobia, media literacy and student/teacher communication.
Despite some challenges in coordinating with busy and stressed school decision-makers, New Lens helped match all trained peer educators with teaching opportunities. As lessons were completed, peer educators received ongoing feedback on their work so that they could hone their teaching skills and improve the learning experience for their students. By the end of the school year, thirty-nine young people had become peer educators, teaching over 670 students across thirteen schools in Baltimore City.
Through Peer2Peer, young people were able to step into leadership and be recognized for the contributions they made to their schools. When asked how it felt to present her mentoring project proposal to a school administrator, India Poindexter shared, “I think it went great because my ideas were heard and they were loved.”
“It’s actually been fun to be a leader, to get everything together and have it happen is really exciting,” shared Olivia Lynes.
The students taught by peer educators showed high levels of engagement as a result of participating in the Project.
After teaching his workshop on media literacy, Leamon Harris observed, “It was great. The kids seemed excited and involved and engaged in what we were talking about. The dialogue ran over class time.”
Indeed, sixty percent (60 percent) of students surveyed over the course of the project agreed that they learned something new at the class taught by peer educators. Seventy-three percent (73%) reported that would recommend this workshop to other people. “They’ve been saying that the workshop was really helpful and wanting to know when the next one is,” Olivia Lynes reports.
“They really had a lot of stuff to say and that really meant a lot to them,” said Aaron Watkins as he described the discussion about stereotypes he led with two fellow peer educators. His co-teacher Constance Green continued, “It was good to have everyone speaking and having everybody cooperate in discussion because that doesn’t really happen a lot.”
Creating that safe and supportive space for discussion seemed to be key to achieving student engagement.
“I always knew students did not have a safe space in school to discuss personal issues, but it really became apparent when we worked with students at the Stadium School who seemed so ready once they had the chance to open up,” James reflected. “There are no bad kids, they just need someone to listen to their problems and help them think through it.”
Adult school partners were also impacted by Peer2Peer. After observing her student teach a lesson to her class at Reginald F. Lewis High School, Nicole Payne noted how powerful peer education is for students. Another administrator from City Neighbors High School noted how much the process got peer educators to think about what it was like to be a teacher and to grapple with the challenging task of inspiring a group of young people. One administrator at Stadium School felt the work was so powerful that she made sure that the entire middle school received the workshop on bullying.
The Peer2Peer Education Project has helped New Lens to realize its mission of having young people be a part of the systems that impact their lives. Peer educators have gained skills and expressed their desire to continue their work.
“I had fun and I want to do it again,” Shaquina Taylor added. Her teaching teammates Aaron and Constance both agreed.
Throughout the year we have developed a group of empowered youth leaders who know that they can impact the success of their school, we have developed relationships with a group of willing school partners and we have helped to bring dynamic youth developed curriculum to schools. With support in the coming year we hope to continue this powerful work.
Launched in 2010, Peer2Peer Education Project is a part of the peer education movement in Baltimore. Founded on the premise that student engagement increases attendance in schools, Peer2Peer is designed to help young people become committed to their own education through addressing issues important to them and taking opportunities for leadership development.