St. John’s Peer Ministry program is known for its role in helping freshmen adjust to a high school environment. Freshman orientation, homeroom ministers, and retreats are the most memorable and demanding tasks assigned to this group of seniors each year. However, the disarray of virtual and hybrid learning has led peer ministry to rethink ways to connect freshman with their peers.
During a typical school year, peer ministers are interacting with freshmen in a variety of ways. “They are some of the first students freshman meet at orientation, where they take a tour of the building and learn what it means to be a Cadet academically, socially, and spiritually. Peer Ministers would typically visit freshman homerooms twice a month, and would host Froshmore – a dance where freshman and sophomores get to mingle, with the help of Peer Ministers. Peer Ministers would also run the freshman retreat, helping them grow in their faith lives and reflection on how their year has gone so far,” Ms. Coffey, who is in charge of the peer ministry program, said.
Despite the lack of homeroom in the everyday schedule this year, freshmen meet with their homerooms every Wednesday to provide opportunities to connect with their assigned minister and with their other peers. Freshman retreat occurred earlier in the year with some modifications in order to maintain safety precautions. “Rather than having five retreats during the 3rd quarter, all of the freshmen came over two days at the end of September and we spent the whole day playing games, making friends, and growing in faith,” Coffey said.
According to Coffey, the significant lifestyle changes given pandemic restrictions have caused her to reshape the way peer ministry focuses on their duties and goals. When the hybrid model is in effect, a lot more of the peer ministry duties fall on Coffey, and her ability to be a cheerful and helpful resource for new students. “I have been playing games at the end of lunch periods that I have free to try and help students connect with others that are in their specific lunch period. I also am trying to be visible in the building more, greeting students when they come in the morning or being out and about in the hallways so they know that I am here for them and a resource they can use whenever they may need me,” Coffey said.
Inevitably, there will always be obstacles to creating a “normal” environment for freshmen with so many restrictions imposed for coronavirus precautions. The hybrid model was only in effect for a couple cohort circulations before returning to virtual for the month of November. These inconsistencies are part of what cause social barriers for the class of 2024.
“It is so hard to connect and really develop a relationship with the freshman. We are trying our best to get them on zoom and make it all come together in some way, but not being in person does pose a challenge. It has also been a little difficult to make sure that the freshman and sophomores are getting the sense of religion through a retreat because we aren’t in school and can’t go on field trips,” John Hechinger ‘21, one of this year’s peer ministers, said.
Eleanor Bender ‘21, another member of the peer ministry team, believes that despite these challenges, the freshmen are still gaining something from peer ministry’s efforts: “Through these challenges, I am really proud of the class of 2024. It is hard making friends without being in person, but the need for social connection has never been greater and I think the freshmen understand that and are willing to go the extra mile.”
However, these setbacks won’t stop the peer ministers from continuing to think of new ways for students to get involved in the SJC community. “Keep an eye out for the Freshman Frenzies starting in December,” Coffey said.