Program Goals/Target Population
Peer Group Connection (PGC) is a high school transition program that targets 9th-grade students (at varying levels of risk for school-related problems) in low-income, urban high schools. The goal of the intervention is to improve high school graduation rates among participating youths by improving their academic achievement, social–emotional skills, school attachment, and relationships with other students across grades.
In the 1st year, selected 11th- and 12th-grade students participate in a daily year-long, leadership-training class taught by faculty advisors (trained school teachers). The peer leaders are selected based on various leadership qualities and the degree to which they are on track to graduate. The training is designed to prepare the upper-class students to engage freshmen in weekly outreach sessions and to serve as positive role models.
The first three class sessions each week are devoted to leadership training. In these sessions, peer leaders learn about and practice social–emotional skills, goal-setting, group facilitation, teamwork, active listening, and skills for time and stress management.
The fourth class period is a 40-minute outreach session in which pairs of peer leaders meet with groups of 12 freshmen. These sessions follow an interactive curriculum that is designed to foster attitudes and skills that will promote behaviors that reduce risk of dropout, with particular emphasis on promoting school attachment; achievement motivation; peer acceptance; social competence; and skills for anger management, decision-making, and goal-setting.
In the fifth and final class each week, the upper-class student leaders reflect on that week’s outreach session with the freshmen. A family night event is held once a year for parents and caregivers of both peer leaders and freshman participants to improve parent–student communication and explore family attitudes.
In the 2nd year, three 2.5-hour booster sessions are provided to students who participated as freshmen. The purpose of these peer-led sessions is to reinforce academic self-efficacy as well as the skills for resisting negative peer influences, communication, goal-setting, and decision-making. Another family night event is also held during this year.
The PGC program is guided by the concept of social and emotional learning (SEL), which “involves the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2013, p. 4). SEL is associated with a positive impact on peer-group interactions; school climate; and students’ academic attitudes, behaviors, and performance (Zins, Weissberg, Wang, and Walberg 2004).
In addition, the PGC program is grounded in social learning theory, according to which students at risk of school dropout can learn positive skills and behaviors by observation and imitation of motivated and successful peer role models in a supportive, structured setting.
The Center for Supportive Schools, formerly the Princeton Center for Leadership Training, (Powell 1993) is the developer of the PGC program and also works in partnership with schools to implement it.