The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

Writing her conclusion
Power up your summer

Peer leaders cultivate community, provide mentorship

Ari Novak
PEER-LEADING PURPOSE. (Left to right) Ninth graders Victoria Syverson and Paxton Cooper join junior peer leaders Theo Hinerfeld and Sofia Picciola under a parachute at the ninth grade energizer event on Apr. 9. The event, organized by the peer leader program and held on Kenwood Mall, offered different mini-games for ninth graders during Lab A. “I had a great time. It was a nice change to having to wake up and go straight to class and instead being able to go outside and get some sunlight,” ninth grader Isaac Sutherland said.

Dashing across Kenwood Mall on April 9, ninth graders bounce between activities at the peer leader energizer. On this cold Tuesday morning, ninth graders and peer leaders alike mingle at the parachute station, laugh at face painting table and hoist plastic axes over their heads as they aim at the multicolored dartboard. In a week full of tests and quizzes, having the morning off to interact with peer leaders is a moment of relief for some ninth graders.

The peer leader program pairs upperclassmen with ninth and tenth grade advisories, allowing younger students to make connections with juniors and seniors that they might not otherwise encounter.

Junior Maya Pytel applied to become a peer leader last spring. She admired the peer leaders when she was a ninth grader, and wanted to take part in the kindness and support they offered her by becoming one herself.

“They had a really fun energy to them and reached out to people who were less comfortable in situations and made them feel seen and valued. So I really aspire to be that person for someone else,” Maya said.

Peer leaders provide a relatable and approachable source of guidance for students who might be more apprehensive about reaching out to adults with questions. Sadie Ellis is one of the students that has benefited from the peer leader program through her peer leader, Benjamin O’Donnell. 

I feel like he’s really open to talk. We have an advisory group chat for questions… or if we have questions about upcoming projects that are like, ‘freshman staples,’ he always answers them to the best of his ability,” Sadie said.

Sadie wants to become a peer leader in her junior year, hoping to provide the same guidance to younger students.

“It’s the little things that really matter,” Maya said as advice to aspiring peer leaders. “When you see someone in the hallways, smile at them … because that’s kind of where the trust builds.”

Peer mentorship not only helps to strengthen the school community, but has been shown to benefit student well-being. According to, having a peer mentor in high school increases graduation rates, improves self-esteem, decreases drug use and promotes a more positive attitude toward school.

While not every student turns to their peer leaders for advice, the program still helps build relationships across grade levels that might otherwise not occur, a fact which Maya particularly values about the program.

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About the Contributor
Ari Novak
Ari Novak, Reporter
Ari Novak is a member of the Class of 2027 and serves as a reporter. She began writing for the Midway in the 2023-24 school year as a ninth grader. Outside of journalism, she enjoys playing piano, listening to music and Duolingo. Awards: 2024 Illinois Journalism Education Association: First place, audio journalism, Audio: Chicago music school experiences boom in business

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