Peer mentors cultivate understanding through firsthand experience

Incoming GBS peer mentors recently met with the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA) for a disability awareness workshop. The annual workshop helps support the school’s nearly three-decade running peer mentoring program.

About 30 students went through a series of “rush hour” activities designed to give mentors experience in handling some of the challenges a person with a disability may deal with on a daily basis. The exercise of putting oneself in another’s shoes allows them to bond and create relationships with their peers.

Sarah Erickson, who is in her second year as a peer mentor, and is serving on the school’s student peer mentoring board, said she originally joined the program on a whim.

“I never thought I would love it as much as I do,” she said. “Last year I was a peer mentor in an English class and part of a lunch group that met once a week… It soon became my favorite lunch of the week. I got to know these kids and we became really good friends.”

There are official requirements for becoming a peer mentor, such as attending class regularly, meeting with mentees and attending regular meetings outside of the mentoring block. Mentors are evaluated, and receive a grade and credit for their time. Yet, the memories last a lifetime.

“It ended up impacting me a lot more than I thought it would,” Erickson said. “Peer mentoring has been a truly extraordinary experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Dani Kern, NSSRA recreation manager, said the students were able to put their training into perspective right away.

“One of the students [shared] how frustrated she felt by so many of the activities, but was able to laugh it off and move on because she knew it was only part of the training,” Kern said. “She went on to explain that it really put into perspective for her that others may not be able to laugh it off and move on because this is a real struggle many of her peers experience every day.”

To learn more about the GBS peer mentoring program, contact Ms. Smigiel at

Visit for more information on the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association. 

Peer mentors cultivate understanding through firsthand experience