Four school-based Peer Assistance Leadership (PAL) programs and an advisor have been honored by the Orange County Department of Education for implementing creative and innovative practices that amplify youth engagement and connectedness.
Administered by OCDE, PAL programs are built around the idea of students helping other students. Youth leaders in grades four through 12 are empowered to create positive school environments through mentoring, new-student transition services, conflict management, service learning, tutoring and prevention activities.
Each year, the top programs and advisors are awarded during surprise visits to their campuses. But this year, PAL administrators teamed up with OCDE’s Media Services team to create short video announcements that were shared by principals the week of May 11.
Here are the winners for the 2019-20 school year:
PAL Program Honorees
Dr. Albert Schweitzer Elementary School, Magnolia School District
Supported by advisor Susana Verne, Schweitzer Elementary PAL students strive to create opportunities and plan activities that positively benefit their fellow students and school community.
This year, the PAL leaders hosted morning walks around the campus to help students to start the day in a healthy way. Every morning, they played music and encouraged others to join them while they walked along the blacktop. In an effort to provide opportunities for social interaction, particularly for students who don’t play sports, they set up an area with board games, joke books and coloring activities once a week during recess. Based on its overwhelming popularity, the PAL group decided to expand this to twice a week. These lunchtime activities have helped reduce discipline issues at recess.
To help spread kindness throughout their school community, PAL students built a Kindness Rock Garden in the shape of a heart. Students painted words of encouragement and kindness on rocks to add to the garden. The Schweitzer PAL group sees the garden as a reminder to always be kind.
Gilbert Elementary School, Garden Grove Unified School District
The PAL group at Gilbert Elementary School includes 35 students, along with advisors Dawn Floyd and Kari Gori. These peer leaders plan activities to promote positive behavior on their campus, engage their peers and support their community. They are an integral part of supporting positive behavior on their campus by creating monthly character skits and leading an anti-bullying campaign.
PAL leaders help engage fellow students by welcoming kindergarteners, helping new students develop friendships, facilitating weekly activities with students who have special needs, and helping the kindergarten classes with social skills. In addition, Gilbert PAL leaders wrote letters to veterans and collected and donated more than 500 blankets to the Orange County Humane Society.
Students are trained in leadership skills and are involved in all aspects of the PAL work on campus — from decision-making to implementation. The PAL leaders at Gilbert set a positive example for their peers by living and promoting healthy lifestyles and admirable behavior.
Marco Forster Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
The two PAL classes at Marco Forster Middle School include 61 PAL peer leaders. Led by advisors Nick Corbin and Ryan Healy, they plan activities throughout the school year to engage their peers and support their community.
Marco Forster PAL peer leaders organized a canned food drive, worked with their local Rotary Club to wrap and distribute gifts for children in their community, donated the profits from their PAL rummage sale to provide food for school families, and organized a clean up of Salt Creek State Beach that brought out 107 volunteers.
PAL activities are student-driven through planning, promoting, implementation and evaluation. Leaders engage and support their peers by providing monthly lunchtime activities and quarterly student celebrations, and by creating a podcast to help give the Marco students a voice on campus.
PAL students want to make sure that all students feel seen and supported in their school community. They are dedicated to working with and getting to know the special needs of the students in the Marco Forster STEPS program for students with moderate to severe disabilities. This past November, PAL students celebrated their peers from the STEPS program as they participated in the Special Olympics.
Marco Forster PAL members strive to be the heart of the school, serving Roadrunner students as well as the rest of their school community.
Ladera Ranch Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
The Ladera Ranch Middle School PAL group, supported by advisor Amanda Hatcher, has made a tremendous impact on the campus to help engage and support their peers.
PAL leaders connect new students to their campus through school tours, hold a quarterly new student lunch, and help facilitate Pride Day during the first week of school to welcome back all students. They also provide tutoring, help the school counselors with Career Day and volunteer in the kindergarten classes of their feeder elementary school.
This class of 33 students has partnered with OCDE to implement the Club Live program, which conducts youth-led alcohol and drug prevention on campus. PAL leaders also support their community through many service projects.
This year they hosted a fundraiser to honor a former student who passed away after a courageous fight with cancer. The funds raised provided scholarships for high school students.
These student leaders regularly come in early, give up their lunch periods or agree to complete activities on the weekend because they want to become better leaders and make school a fun, safe place where all feel welcomed.
PAL Advisor Honoree
Nick Corbin, Marco Forster Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
Nick Corbin guides and supports his students in making positive contributions to the school and community.
Under his leadership, PAL students have created a climate and culture that provides peer-to-peer support, community service opportunities, cross-age tutorial and teaching assistance, new student transition support, drug and violence prevention programs, and environmental awareness.
Mr. Corbin provides a safe space and platform for students to feel empowered, use their voice, and be a catalyst that drives change.