Marymount’s Education Department hosts Peer Mentor Leadership Institute

Marymount University’s Education Department hosted the first Peer Mentor Leadership Institute (PMLI) on Oct. 30, 2019.

Forty-five students from Diocese of Arlington high schools Bishop O’Connell, Bishop Ireton, Paul VI and St. John Paul the Great attended. The PMLI was a collaboration between Marymount and the local high schools to create a day of training for peer mentors that support students with disabilities in the classroom. The theme of the day was, “Inclusion Lives Here!” Attendees proudly sported that slogan on custom t-shirts made for the event.

The students enjoyed a collaborative atmosphere with sessions held at the Ballston campus, focusing on topics delivered by Dr. Clara Hauth and education students Maddy DeCou, Zeyna McIlvain, Keri Mignano and graduate assistant Maria Paredes. Students from the area high schools engaged in conversations and interactive sessions on understanding disabilities, building positive social interactions, supporting academic skills and working with families. 

Everyone enjoyed a working lunch in Ballston with continued conversations about supporting peers in the classroom and beyond. The high school students had the opportunity to tour Main Campus as well, and attended mass together at Marymount’s Religious of the Sacred Heart Chapel.

Afternoon sessions at Rowley Hall addressed building tools for inclusive classrooms, and engaging all learners with strategies for success. Students enjoyed the opportunity to share ideas to support peer mentoring in their schools. 

“Thank you so much for this opportunity! Our kids learned so much,” said Katherine Bittenger from St. John Paul the Great. “We have students who are already asking to go to the next Peer Mentor Leadership Institute.”

The PMLI began as an idea to create a day of training and collaboration for students that wanted to be peer mentors but needed more training and support. Diane Elliott, Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools, and a dynamic team of high school mentor coordinators and teachers including Susan Rinaldi of Bishop O’Connell, J-Lynn Van Pelt of Bishop Ireton, Bittenger from St. John Paul the Great and Trish Adams of Paul VI met to discuss the project last summer with Dr. Hauth. 

Students left with new friendships, new and enhanced peer mentoring skills, strategies to support their classmates and certificates to mark their accomplishments from the institute. 

“Thank you to Marymount for your work toward making our Peer Mentor Leadership Institute a reality,” Rinaldi shared.

“Plans for next year’s Institute will include more students and an opportunity for the newly-trained peer mentors to join in the collaboration as well,” Hauth said. “What an incredible day we had!”