In Real Life Blog Series: Peer Mentors Inspire Improved Attendance in Baltimore City

Dr. Margo Ross, Senior Director of Development, and Dr. Beshon Smith, Executive Director of Delaware and Maryland
September 2nd, 2016
Posted In: In Real Life, Mentoring Stories

Mentors have powerful opportunities to inspire students. This September, as part of the fourth annual Attendance Awareness Month campaign, we will be sharing stories and resources showcasing the power of strong relationships to keep students involved in school. 

According to Attendance Works, “students are more likely to go to school if they know someone cares whether they show up.”  For nearly 40 years, the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS) has activated the most underutilized resource in schools – the students themselves – as a powerful force for creating caring school communities that inspire students to show up.

Recent evaluation results from Baltimore City schools participating in our peer mentoring and high school transition model known as Peer Group Connection (PGC) illustrate the promise of this approach. For the 2014-15 school year:

  • Across all schools studied, attendance rates for 9th grade students participating in PGC were between 3 and 7.9 percentage points higher than the school-wide attendance rate reported at these schools that same year.
  • In six out of eight schools studied, chronic absentee rates (% of students missing more than 20 days of school) for 9th grade students participating in PGC were between 4 and 15.5 percentage points lower than school-wide chronic absentee rates reported at these schools that same year.

“PGC has an impact on student attendance because it motivates students to come to school by making them feel important and making the school environment feel safe,” shared Naim Smith, a PGC peer leader at Baltimore’s Coppin Academy High School.

20151203_122446Thirteen Baltimore City high schools are among over 250 schools nationally that are currently implementing PGC. Introduced by CSS in 1979, PGC trains carefully selected older students (11th and 12th graders in high schools; 8th graders in middle schools) 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 group facilitators for younger students (9th graders or 6th graders). Peer mentors work in pairs to co-lead groups of 10 to 14 younger students in weekly sessions in which the younger students participate in engaging, hands-on activities in supportive environments.

In their daily leadership class, PGC peer leaders learn to facilitate interactive, activity-based sessions such as Showing Up, in which they help their younger peers think about why showing up to school and attending class matters and affects graduation. In Showing Up: Part 2, they take the conversation to the next level and explore what it means to give school your full attention and get something meaningful from the experience by being present and staying focused. Throughout these sessions, students actively participate in engaging peer-led activities and dialogue. For example, an activity called Knowledge, Action, Power invites students to react to cards that contain powerful statements, symbols, and pictures that acknowledge road blocks to being present as a high school student and that also act as an invitation to address them.

Sue Fothergill, Associate Director of Policy with Attendance Works offers, “Students transitioning into high school often face uncertainty as they experience a new school, teachers, and new peer groups. In most school districts the freshman year is the toughest for attendance and students can quickly get lost and stop coming to school. PGC makes a difference by connecting freshmen to older students in their school. Having a peer mentor in a time of transition is significant because the mentor can reassure them that they are not on the path alone with credibility because the mentor has been a freshman and successfully made it. The mentor can also help to connect the student to academic support, programmatic opportunities and ensure that their mentees know about resources available in their school.”

With the help of caring adults and in the context of supportive school communities, students can harness the power of positive peer relationships to help one another show up, every day and in every sense of the word.


9 million young people in America are in need of a trusted adult in their lives to guide them in moments big and small. Join the In Real Life movement and become an advocate, make a donation or become a volunteer.

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