Peer mentoring builds connections, increases graduation rates

At Baltimore’s Academy of College and Career Exploration (ACCE), students are required to carry clear or mesh backpacks to school for security purposes. When Principal Quinhon Goodlowe saw freshman Brandon Thompson carrying a backpack emblazoned with the Peer Group Connection (PGC) logo, she knew something was wrong. PGC backpacks are reserved only for the juniors and seniors enrolled in the program as peer mentors, so she stopped him to ask where it had come from. Brandon told her he had lost his old backpack and knew he would not be allowed into school without it. His PGC peer mentor, Kyle Maddox, had given him the PGC backpack until he could get a new one.

“I was incredibly moved by what Brandon told me,” said Principal Goodlowe. “In this small gesture, Kyle showed that he cared about whether Brandon attended school. This is one of the most important reasons we brought PGC to ACCE – to show our incoming freshmen that all members of our school community are valued and that we all look out for each other.”

According to MENTOR, “mentoring helps because it guarantees a young person that there is someone who cares about them.” For 35 years, PGC has been tapping into the power of older students to mentor and support incoming freshmen throughout the critical transition into high school. As a result, schools become safer, more supportive, engaging, and inspiring and students become strongly connected through caring relationships with one another.

Introduced in 1979 by the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS, formerly Princeton Center for Leadership Training), Peer Group Connection has been implemented in 216 high schools nationally and internationally, impacting the lives of approximately 23,000 students annually. The program immerses freshmen in safe and supportive groups led by older peer mentors, thereby contributing to a school environment that enables and inspires students to come to school ready to learn, achieve, and graduate ready for the rigors of college and fulfilling careers. Carefully selected juniors and/or seniors are trained as part of their regular school schedule in a daily, 45-minute leadership development class to become peer mentors and serve as positive role models and discussion leaders for 9th graders. Peer mentors work in pairs to co-lead groups of 10 to 14 ninth graders in outreach sessions in which the younger students participate in engaging, hands-on activities in supportive environments.

There is compelling evidence that PGC can significantly lower high school dropout rates. A 4-year longitudinal, randomized-control study conducted in Union City, NJ by Rutgers University and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that PGC improves the graduation rates of its student participants by ten percentage points and cuts by half the number of male students who would otherwise dropout. PGC has also been recognized by the National Dropout Prevention Center as a Model Program demonstrating Strong Evidence of Effectiveness, its highest effectiveness rating.

Data also indicates that PGC improves grades, reduces delinquent behaviors, and helps students become highly skilled in the leadership, academic, social, and emotional skills that are proven to result in school and life success. Student participants report that as a result of PGC, they are more connected to school, more motivated to complete high school and post-secondary education, and better equipped to make decisions, set goals, and communicate with peers and adults.

As demonstrated in this NBC Today Show clip featuring the program, PGC peer mentors feel an “overwhelming sense of pride” about their roles. According to a PGC peer mentor in Atlantic City, New Jersey, “Over the months, I've begun to notice how our actions help make an impact on the lives of the freshmen. Not only is it a pleasure to help out the freshmen with their everyday lives but it’s also a way for us to learn life lessons that aren’t taught in school.”

Fiorella Cabrejos, Assistant Principal at New York City’s Herbert H. Lehman High School, says that PGC has had a “profound effect” on school improvement. “This is a movement led by our own students and both for the 9th graders as well as for the 12th graders, the positive change and growth is evident both in soft and hard data. I would recommend this program to other schools…because it allows for human connections to be made with every 9th grader which is something that is a challenge in any school, small or large.”

For more information about PGC and other mentoring programs designed to create safer, more supportive, engaging and inspiring schools, please visit the Center for Supportive Schools at

January is National Mentoring Month, led by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. For more information, click here