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Student-led SEL initiative spreads hope at East Syracuse Minoa High School


Student-led SEL initiative spreads hope at East Syracuse Minoa High School

Weds., April 10, 2024

East Syracuse Minoa High School (ESM) is strengthening its culture of well-being, coping, belonging and help-seeking through a national peer support program called Sources of Strength—and sharing its message of hope and success with all OCM BOCES’ component districts. 

Four students from ESM’s Sources of Strength chapter Wednesday spoke to a group of 22 regional school counselors, social workers and administrators at OCM BOCES’ Main Campus to share how their training as “peer leaders” is advancing social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives in their district.
ESM Students
Pictured L-R: Ava D'Agostina, Leah Barone, Anthony Fogel, and Tyler Hildreth.
Students who represented the chapter included senior Ava D’Agostino, junior Tyler Hildreth, sophomore Anthony Fogel and freshman Leah Barone. 

D’Agostino said being a peer leader allows her to be a “connector” for students who struggle with whatever life throws at a high school student—at home or in the classroom. 

“I find that a lot of students just really get overwhelmed with schoolwork, tests, quizzes, finals and studying,” she said. “It gets to be a lot, especially if you’re balancing sports as well.”

D’Agostino says most students who reach out to her and other peer leaders are more comfortable talking to someone their own age. She refers students to school counselors or mentors in the building if a student’s concerns appear more serious.

“They can shoot me a text, find me online, or come up to me in person and talk about getting connected to a mentor throughout the school.”
ESM Student1
Anthony Fogel (left), Tyler Hildreth (right)

Tyler Hildreth, a junior who also serves as a peer leader, said students mostly just want someone to listen. 

“Generally, it’s a lot of students who just come up to you with their issues and say, ‘Hey, I’m having this problem’,” he said. “A lot of times it’s as simple as having a conversation.”

While ESM had adopted Sources of Strength before the pandemic, Social Worker Renae Montroy gave the program a reboot after noticing students faced difficulties returning to school. 
         ESM Social Worker Renae Montroy

“We recognized kids were really struggling coming out of the pandemic, just kind of relating to each other, knowing who to access for support—all those different things,” she said. 

ESM secured a grant through the University of Rochester to continue funding its Sources of Strength chapter through the end of 2025.