Special Bonds: PDS Senior Mentors Cap Year with 9th Gr. Peer Groups

Scroll through for poignant reflections from participants and an album of great photos... 

On April 21, Princeton Day School held its annual Ninth Grade Peer Group retreat, a capstone event for this signature student leadership program. In the Peer Group program, Grade 12 leaders are chosen by application and paired with groups of freshman students (encompassing the entire Ninth Grade class) for the year. The program involves training with faculty advisors and participation in a full year of meetings and activities designed to create connections, impart leadership skills and foster positive community culture.

After a year of required adjustments due to health and safety protocols, a key goal for the faculty and student leaders of the program was to create a safe, in-person retreat, which they accomplished by hosting it at school on Baker Field.

"It was the first time in more than a year that over 100 freshmen and their 33 senior leaders were able to assemble in person and be together. It was so important to have this opportunity to close the year and their Peer Group experience playing, bonding and acting as a community during the retreat. We all truly enjoyed feeling 'normal' on this very special day," Director of Wellness Dr. Candy Shah shared. 

The Peer group faculty team of Dr. Shah, MS/US Music teacher Edgar Mariano, US English teacher Jamie McCulloch and Coach Jill Thomas spent a lot of time and effort planning the retreat with the group of senior leaders. The priority was to ensure a safe outdoor experience adhering to all current CDC health and safety guidelines while also providing participants the opportunity to have fun.

The 2020-2021 group of Peer Group Leaders included: Madeline Chia '21, Aaron Chu '21, Josh Colon '21, Bruno Cucchi '21, Alex Darenkov '21, Anna Ellwood '21, Jamie Granato '21, Alex Hollander '21, Hope Jerris '21, Ritika Kumar '21, Jessie Lin '21, Aiden McChesney '21, Alex Nowakoski '21, Liv Phillips '21, Tharun Potluri '21, Dameon Samuels '21, Caroline Topping '21 and Jordan Young '21

Beautiful spring weather graced the day and enhanced this memorable milestone occasion, which featured a schedule of events including enthusiastic games of kickball, "capture the flag" and the cherished "egg drop" competition. The activities combined elements of teamwork, friendly competition, strategy and leadership.

"The 'egg drop' continues to be a highlight as riddles are solved, pieces to make the contraption are gathered and the final products designed by all were dropped from Baker Tower," Dr. Shah explained.

As important as the scheduled activities were the planned break periods in-between. The breaks allowed each small group of seniors and freshmen to connect through conversation and safely enjoy a sense of normalcy, which quickly became the overwhelming theme.

"I particularly enjoyed the mini-breaks we had in between activities that we spent just relaxing, talking, snacking and enjoying each other's company," Tharun Potluri '21 noted.

Student and Faculty Reflections Underscore the Importance of In-Person Connection

Anna Ellwood '21: "The peer group retreat felt like one of the most normal events in over a year for me. It was incredibly fun and I loved getting to spend time with 'my nines' in an almost normal setting. It was a nice break from plexiglass and virtual divisions! I think it was so important to end a peer group like this so that the nines could end things on a good note, but also to remind everyone that things will get back to normal eventually and that you can still enjoy the company of others safely in conditions like this."

Coach Jill Thomas: "It's the closest thing to normal that we've had in over a year. It was great to see the students smiling (through masks) and enjoying having fun with each other. That's something that the pandemic has restricted but we found a safe way for it to happen for all of these great kids!"

Kelly Beal '21: "The retreat meant a lot to the leaders especially when it came to seeing our nines get to socialize with other peer groups and compete in a friendly environment for the first time. A favorite moment for me was the individual folders we received. We were able to write about each member of our peer group and why we loved being in peer group with them. This was a highlight because we all were able to reflect on the amazing experience we had in peer group together. Knowing that it was the last activity for us leaders with our freshmen, yet the first retreat we got to have with them, was very bittersweet but also very memorable."

Emmy Demorre '24: "I personally think that it was incredibly important that the retreat was in-person. It was truly a way to solidify the bond between the peer groups and was overall a great way to take a break from the normal, academic cycle to be able to do more hands-on and physical activities. A particular highlight probably was the egg drop and then the folder signing. The egg drop required a lot of team thinking and logic while the folder was a great keepsake. Lastly, while this was a freshmen retreat, I think it was also really important for the seniors. It was a sort of pre-sendoff before the actual senior sendoff this week."

Tharun Potluri '21: "Being able to hold a retreat in-person this year felt really special given how difficult this year has been and all the challenges we have faced. We were able to have such a fun time bonding and interacting with each other while still being responsible and safe. Even though we couldn’t go on our usual weekend-long off-campus retreat with our freshmen, this year’s peer group retreat was representative of our resilience as a community. Running around all day and having fun with other leaders and the freshman class also brought a sense of pre-COVID normalcy that many of us have missed. Overall, it was a great day on The Great Road and a memory of PDS that I will take with me forever!"

Lily Ryan '24: "I think it was extremely important to hold the retreat on-campus, as it allowed for an engaging experience that gave the students a moment of normalcy and fun that we haven’t had for a long time. I think the event went very smoothly. Despite rumors of incoming rain, the weather held up until the very end of the retreat so everyone was able to enjoy the nice weather for the majority of the day. There were many highlights for me! In particular, I found the capture the flag to be the greatest highlight. Seeing the school group together and facing off showed how strong the spirit is here at PDS."

Enjoy our Flickr album with more photo highlights from the retreat!

Edgar Mariano and Jill Thomas during the Egg Drop
A Kickball game during the 2021 Peer Group Retreat

Photos (from top): A group of students enjoying break time during the retreat; Mr. Mariano and Coach Thomas during the Egg Drop; an incoming pitch during kickball

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