Elizabeth M. is a student volunteer for North Carolina Virtual Public School. She is the founder of Hoggard Peer Partnership, a peer assistance program at her high school. This article describes the journey of starting her program and offers advice on what it takes to start an organization.
I began volunteering with the North Carolina Virtual Public School’s Peer Tutoring Center in the summer of 2015, and through my volunteer work I discovered the Peer Tutoring Center’s Virtual Buddy Program. As a Virtual Buddy, I serve as a guide for NCVPS students who need additional support in their courses, assisting with time management, study skills, and course navigation. I’m passionately involved with all my Virtual Buddies, relishing in their progress as much as I would in my own, and I’m currently the student lead of the program. Developing personal relationships with my peers from across the state felt incredibly special to me, and I knew there were students at my face-to-face school who could benefit from a service similar to the Virtual Buddy Program.
I saw a need at my school for additional resources that students could take advantage of as they advanced in their academic goals. My school is good at promoting upcoming college visits, test dates, scholarships, guest speakers, and other educational opportunities, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like students are getting all the information they need. I also noticed that many students were stressed under the pressure to do well in class, and I wanted to takes steps to address these issues.
I wanted to provide a service where students could be paired with a peer mentor or partner who could provide advice and support in areas in and out of school. From this goal I conceived Hoggard Peer Partnership. The program aims to help students seeking to improve their study skills, build their confidence, and create social and academic connections. Students have the opportunity to learn more about course offerings and educational opportunities at my school through working with knowledgeable peer volunteers.
Building the Foundation:
- Every club at my school has to have a faculty sponsor, so I asked my school guidance counselor if she would be interested in sponsoring the program. She accepted, and we met over the summer to discuss program goals and logistics (recruitment of volunteers, advertising to the student body, student application process, training for volunteers, nature of peer partnerships, etc.).
- My school hosts a club fair at the beginning of the school year to give the student body a chance to see the organizations the school has to offer. Club participation in the club fair is optional, but it is a huge event every year at my school, drawing massive crowds. I created a tri-fold to advertise the goals of my program, and I made a flyer to hand out to passersbys and interested students. I had a signup sheet where students could write down their contact information. I wasn’t sure how many people would sign up, but I was aiming to have about 10 volunteers in the program to start. I had 30 people write down their names by the end of the hour long event (which I was thrilled about!).
Starting up the Program:
- Training weeks: Before Hoggard Peer Partnership could start helping students, volunteers had to go through training. For the first six club meetings, I organized a short lesson and a related discussion covering communication skills and areas I expected students to need assistance with, including note taking and time management.
- Name Change Game: Initially, I named my program Hoggard Helpers Peer Mentoring Group, but discussion with the club’s volunteers led me to changing the name to Hoggard Peer Partnership.
- Google Forms! I created a Google Form where students could request a peer partner. Students select what areas they are looking for help in, and volunteers filled out a similar form so I could make appropriate volunteer to student matches later.
- Advertising: In order to draw interested students to the program, I organized an open house during my club’s usual meeting time for students to come and socialize with peer partners. I wrote an announcement for the open house to be read on my school’s intercom system, and a Hoggard Peer Partnership volunteer made an advertisement to hang in the halls. I also worked with my faculty advisor to spread the word about the open house through the school staff.
Mission in motion:
- Currently, we have seven students working with Hoggard Peer Partnership volunteers, and we have about ten volunteers in the program.
- We are working on setting up a club website where students can find out more about the program, request a peer partner, and sign up as a volunteer all in one place. We are also setting up social media accounts to advertise the program and give students another way to learn more about what Hoggard Peer Partnership does.
If you are interested in starting an organization at your school, here is some advice for you to consider:
- Be sure to listen to the members of your group. You’re still the leader, but being open to new ideas will improve your program.
- Google Drive is a great tool for making everything from typed documents to graphics. All you need is a free gmail account to access Google Drive. Also, Google Drive has a great collaboration system so you can work on documents with others in real time.
- Make a mission statement. Creating a mission statement will help you stay focused on the goals of your organization and provide your school’s student body with a clear idea of what your group plans to accomplish. Re-reading Hoggard Peer Partnership’s mission statement (“Our mission is to provide guidance and support to students seeking self-improvement”) gives me motivation to keep going when I face challenges related to the program.
- Keep an attendance log. Over time, you will see the students who are really devoted to your organization, and knowing this information will allow you to delegate tasks appropriately and trust they will be completed.
- Don’t be afraid to delegate and ask for help with tasks. Make the best of your group members’ expertise, whether it is their talent for art or their familiarity with building websites.
- Advertising has been the most challenging part of starting Hoggard Peer Partnership. It’s difficult to capture the attention of your school, so don’t get discouraged if your first round of promotional materials doesn’t make waves.
- Network with your school’s teachers and other faculty members. They can often help you promote your group in their classes or provide you with a meeting space. Also, talking to your school’s staff is an excellent way to improve your own speaking and communication skills.