Peer Counselors Finding New—and Old—Ways to Connect to Their Pals

The St. Margaret’s Peer Counselors program’s hallmarks of connection and support have continued even when face-to-face interactions aren’t feasible. One of the most meaningful ways is an old-school practice—hand-written letters. 

The program, overseen by all-school counselors Janice Avalone and Jeremy Dailey, involves the careful selection of Upper School students to serve as mentors to students in the Early Childhood School, Lower School and Middle School. The one-on-one time counselors spend with their “peer pals” often take place during lunch and downtime during normal school years.

“These special bonds for many students have lasted for years, sometimes even when the older student has gone off to college,” Dr. Avalone said. “Just last year, one of the Lower School students went with her mom and decorated her peer pal’s front lawn for graduation.”

This year, with cohorts in place limiting cross-divisional interaction, peer pals are staying close through video messages via FlipGrid and, even more impactful, hand-written letters. It’s a big change in format for the program, but one that Dr. Avalone says “has been hugely successful.”

Upper School peer counselors watch a TED Talk video on the power of a hand-written letter. Afterward, the mentors began their communication, writing letters and dropping them off at the counseling office. Dr. Avalone and Mr. Dailey then deliver them to the younger students’ classrooms. 

“It is incredible to see their faces light up upon seeing that they received this special hand-written letter from their peer pal,” Dr. Avalone said. “Through this very difficult time we are seeing the silver linings as we undercover some of our old-fashioned way of doing things. Who would think in this technology age that a hand-written letter would bring so much joy?”

This year, the program has 68 peer counselors, all of whom are seniors, juniors and sophomores in the Upper School. 
An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
31641 La Novia Avenue
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
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