Montclair High School students helped middle schoolers overcome the challenges of remote learning as part of Montclair Fund for Education Excellence‘s Peer-led Educational Engagement Program. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR FUND FOR EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

Being in high school during a pandemic isn’t easy, but some Montclair High School students decided to take on an additional responsibility this year — helping younger students navigate the challenges of remote learning.  

As part of the Montclair Fund for Education Excellence’s Peer-led Educational Engagement Program, or PEEPs, high schoolers provided individualized support to middle schoolers. Out of the program’s 51 leaders, 17 were seniors. The program began this school year in response to the challenges of remote learning. 

Every middle school student in the program was paired with an MHS leader. The pair focused on academic support, time management and how to overcome obstacles. 

Senior PEEPs leader Anacia Sessoms said being a part of the program helped her find her authentic voice. 

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“I have had five PEEPs since the beginning of this year, and each one has helped me discover myself as a leader, not just for this program, but in my life,” Sessoms said. 

Sessoms is also part of the Little PEEPs program, which pairs elementary students with middle school students, under the mentorship of high school PEEPs leaders.

“I feel like an older sister to the group,” she said.

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The MHS PEEPs leaders took on a lot of responsibility, said program youth coordinator Kamari Richardson. They had three meetings a week, and the program required a significant time commitment, she said. 

“They’re already managing high school,” Richardson said. “A lot of them [were] in sports, a lot of them [were] in extracurricular activities. But they also made time for our program.”

Senior Elias Benchekroun was paired with seventh grader Khiry, and the two bonded over their love of sports, Benchekroun said.

“At first he was shy, but once he opened up to me things went great,” Benchekroun said. “I think it was difficult to break the initial wall, especially virtually, but we made it work.”

Benchekroun is headed off to college in the fall, but he said he knows he and Khiry will stay close and talk often.

“I had the chance to support him academically, but more important be there for him as a big brother of sorts and help him however he needs,” Benchekroun said. 

Seniors participating in the program were Benchekroun, Sessoms, Sophie King, Isabel Beck, Ava Scandalios, Bianca Purkis, Amelia Snyder, John “Jack” Miller, Ethan Coplan, Nafia Hampton, Katherine Cummings, Ted Wilson, Paige Villella, Esme Barr, Amar Francis, Elliot Lasiter and Natalie Glasman.