“PALS” Program Added for New Freshmen

New free periods, first-ever finals, and for some, a brand-new school; if any of this sounds familiar, congratulations! You’ve attended John Burroughs as a freshman.

We all know Burroughs is stressful enough without the added responsibilities of 9th grade. Luckily, a new program, Peer Advisors for Leadership and Support (PALS), has been created to help alleviate some of the newfound pressure and anxiety that comes with making the transition from middle to high school. Originally intended to be a replacement for Drey Land Plus (which was canceled due to COVID-19), PALS assigns two sophomore advisors to each freshman advisory. These advisors spend the first ten minutes of designated advisory periods providing insight and giving tips surrounding topics like finals, free periods, studying, extracurriculars, sports, etc. PALS isn’t just for academic and school-related purposes, however. As co-chair of the program, Maddy Pass (‘23) states, “It is also an opportunity for inter-grade relationships to form, especially with COVID when it can be pretty hard to interact with people outside of our classes.” A PALS movie night, for example, occurred in late October when freshman and their sophomore advisors played fun icebreakers, games, and watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off along with The Office, all in an effort to bring the grades closer together and form a tighter-knit community.

Though 9th grade is a hard year for everyone, it’s especially difficult for new 9th graders. Adam Sutter (‘23), the other co-chair of the PALS program, who joined Burroughs as a freshman, says it would’ve made his first year a lot easier if he had someone to “answer all of [his] questions about finals, term papers, etc.” He continues, “Sometimes it can be scary to ask questions.” Of course, Adam got to experience Drey Land Plus and had a fairly normal year until the pandemic started. However, for the new freshmen in the class of 2024, the transition has been even more challenging; new 9th graders have to deal with hybrid learning on top of trying to make friends and adjust to Burroughs’ workload. Anya Liu (‘24) expressed that though she is doing her best to maintain a steady work schedule, teachers needing to quarantine and dealing with substitutes have thrown a wrench in her routine. Thankfully, Anya says her PALS have given her solid advice on developing studying habits that are really helping her through the year. She’s especially grateful that her peer advisors are “very realistic with us, without trying to sugarcoat anything,” and thus offering a more honest, firsthand perspective that you may not get from a teacher.

The question remains: Where does the PALS program go from here? Maddy Pass and Adam Sutter are both excited to see how the project will develop when everyone can physically be in the same room as each other. As Adam puts it, “It is especially hard to create a sense of comradery when the 10th graders or the majority of their advisory is on Zoom.” Although there is no consensus on whether or not it’s necessary to expand the program to other grades, Samuel Knispel (‘23), a PALS advisor, believes it would really benefit middle schoolers. “Rising freshmen already have somewhat of an experience at Burroughs,” Samuel says, “So it would be a good idea to advise incoming 7th graders as well.”

At the end of the day, nothing can change the fact that Burroughs is a stressful place. We can, however, work together to make each other’s lives a little bit less so. As Anya Liu reminds us, “In these times, everyone’s been doing the best they can. Try to be thankful to everyone – both teachers and students – for being so kind and helpful.”