PEER: Bringing Positive Experiences to Tuscarora

In an interview with a few members of PEER as well as the program sponsor Mrs. Austin, they give insight to what the PEER program is about and their experiences.

PEER: Bringing Positive Experiences to Tuscarora

By: Joey Hudson

PEER is one of the more prominent organizations at Tuscarora. Many students know about PEER due to them regularly selling their popular lollipops in order to raise money for the program, but the group also does a lot more for Tuscarora and its students and staff, some of which is a lot more noticeable than others.

“PEER stands for Positive Experiences & Educational Relationships,” Mrs. Austin, the PEER program sponsor, says when asked about what PEER does, “Every high school in Loudoun County has a PEER program, some much more engaged in the building than others. I fosture in engaged experiences here at Tuscarora, and it’s pretty multifaceted. You see in the hallways posters and you see campaigns and pledges, but we also work one-on-one with students who have either self-identified or been identified by someone who is in need of a PEER buddy and then there is a one-on-one mentor relationship with that PEER program member and the student.”

Mrs. Austin continues her explanation with what else PEER does that goes beyond Tuscarora’s walls, saying, “We also carry this program across the street to Smarts Mill, so we engage in our campaigns here at Tusky as well as Smarts Mill with the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders over there.”

Some members of PEER also talk about some of the projects that they have done that contributed to PEER and Tuscarora. Melina Efigenio, Madison Shavers, and Angel Hernandez all talked about the Boo Bullying campaign, a campaign PEER held in order to raise awareness for anti-bullying in Tuscarora that took place during October. 

“I led Boo Bullying in October and we had banners and anti-bullying pledges,” Shavers says, “We also had a basketball competition just to raise awareness for it [bullying].” 

Hernandez also adds, “The Boo Bullying campaign was one of our biggest campaigns, we all took part in it and we got to embrace Boo Bullying.”

Efigenio and Shavers also mention raising donations for the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, where Efigenio told us that they were able to receive over 100 donations for the campaign.

Another PEER student, Malaika Khan is leading the current campaign for March, which is focusing on community, equity, and tolerance. Khan explains what her and her PEER members are all working on for this campaign, saying, “We’ve created a lot of different things for this campaign. For tolerance, we’re doing a heart campaign where we put up hearts on the lockers like previous years. For community, since it falls into U-Nite, we’re going to be collaborating with U-Nite where we have our spirit week that week and have events that lead up to U-Nite.”

The members of PEER also talk about what made them want to join PEER. Many said that they were introduced to PEER through someone else or saw PEER from previous years working before they could join. Khan gave her reason for joining PEER, stating, “The fact that I can help other people and being given a platform to do so helped motivate me to do PEER.”

Hernandez mentioned how PEER stood out to him while he was at Smarts Mill, “Honestly, I saw the fact that everyone got along well with each other through the past 3 years when I was a Freshman. Even in Smarts Mill I would see a whole group of people going in, talking to kids alone and I was like, ‘That seems pretty cool,’ so Mrs. Austin introduced it to me in Sophomore year, saying Juniors and Seniors can join, so I took the step ahead and I did join it.”

Mrs. Austin also talks about what inspired her to become the program sponsor for PEER, giving credit to the former sponsor, Mrs. Austin shares, “I am the second PEER program sponsor here at Tuscarora. The lady I replaced, Diana Reybourge, was a phenomenal program sponsor. She left to take a different job at the elementary level and I had a conversation with Mrs. Croft and we thought this would be a great fit for me. I’ve had outside experiences, I have graduate courses in counseling and I like listening to people, so I wanted to fosture that in the PEER program so that’s what students do, they do a lot of listening to other kids who are identified as someone who needs a PEER buddy.”

The PEER members told us about their favorite aspect of PEER, the students interviewed mentioned how meeting and interacting with students has been their favorite part of their PEER experience. Efigenio says, “My favorite part of PEER has been meeting so many new people. People I would never talk to I’ve met in this class and they have become some of my favorite people to talk to.”

Mrs. Austin talks about watching the one-on-one relationship between a PEER buddy and a student has been her favorite part working in PEER. She says, “The one-on-one relationships that my students build and when they see someone that they have been working with come out of their shell and find a place for themselves here at Tuscarora, which is ultimately for students to find a place where they feel comfortable [at Tuscarora]. Those success stories are the best parts.”

When talking about why other students should sign up for PEER, many of the students interviewed praise the PEER program for being influential. Khan talks about how PEER helped her come out of her shell, saying, “I think it’s a great experience and all the skills we learn in PEER are helpful for later in life. All the communication skills, it is very helpful. I can now start a conversation with other people more easily than before because I used to be really shy about starting conversations.”

Hernandez also said something similar, commenting, “It gives you a boost of confidence. This year and last year I’ve had a lot of confidence talking to other PEER members and other kids around the school, even if they were a Freshman or Sophomore.”

Shavers mentions how PEER is very unifying to those a part of it, saying, “It’s a fun class. You get to meet new people that you would have never talked to before. It’s like a family. It’s probably the only class where you’ll get to know everybody in a different kind of way.”

For those interested in joining PEER, Mrs. Austin states that when looking for members of PEER, she looks for students that have had unique experiences because they are usually the ones that bring the most unique and diverse perspectives that contribute well to the PEER program. If you’re interested in joining PEER, go see room 209 to pick up a PEER application sheet to fill out.