CHESHIRE – For high school seniors, their final school year can be an emotional experience. It is filled with reflections upon special memories and saying goodbye to classmates and teachers.
But this year, before graduating from Cheshire High School in June, a group of 25 students is working to help a younger generation also leave a legacy of community service.
In taking the Peer Health Educators elective course under the tutelage of coach and physical education teacher Dan Lee, seniors are organizing events and activities based around leadership.
“Personally, I haven’t experienced anything so student-driven,” said student Lindsey Abramson. “It is a testament to the program that Coach Lee has created.”
The seniors have had the opportunity to work with the four elementary schools in town. After receiving information from principals, the peer health educators tailor lessons about kindness and leadership.
Last fall, for Kindness Week, a group went to Chapman School to speak to fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
“We talked about everyday leadership,” said Abramson. “You take the actions of being kind, like showing integrity.”
On Thursday, students will attend a community meeting with Highland School fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
Peer health educators have also partnered with the high school’s Best Buddies program to make recess trips to elementary schools on Thursdays and Fridays.
“They listen to every word you say,” said Ava Pulisciano. “They (the students) are locked in on you, even though you are not a teacher or an adult. It is nice to see that they really care.”
Seniors have already started planning for the Unified Basketball Tournament on March 11. Begun approximately seven years ago by a former peer health educator, students team up with classmates who have mental and/or physical disabilities.
“The students plan the games, reach out to coaches, make t-shirt designs, and set up food for the event,” explained Lee.
Peer health educators also play a key role in organizing Excellence in Leadership Conferences at the high school, middle school, and elementary school levels. For the last eight years, Cheshire High School has hosted students from neighboring towns to participate in activities and panel discussions. Lee expects that 375 leaders will attend this year’s event, which is scheduled to be held on April 21 or April 22.
With the Ryan T. Lee Memorial Foundation sponsoring the event, the program has personal significance to Lee. Back in 2011, his son Ryan, at age 19, was struck by a taxi cab in New York City and died from his injuries. In his memory, family and friends helped create the foundation to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Pulisciano credits Lee for empowering her to take on a leadership role with the Student Leadership Advisory Council last year.
“I found that I have a passion for leadership,” said Pulisciano.
Pulisciano is currently planning the first Excellence in Leadership Conference for elementary students.
“It will be more activity-based than the other conferences,” said Pulisciano. “We can’t have as many lectures as on the high school level.”
Paige Remillard started an Excellence in Leadership Conference for middle school students in 2019 and, even though she graduated last June, she is still planning this year’s event while at Pennsylvania State University.