PALS Upperclassmen Volunteer At Elementary Schools

Lana Giles, Staff Writer

Twice a week, upperclassmen go to elementary schools during third period and organize activities with younger students. Their trips are coordinated with the Peer Assistance, Leadership, and Service (PALS) elective class at LASA open for application to juniors and seniors. The goal of the program is to encourage elementary students to further develop their communication skills and confidence with other students by playing games.

Junior Rhea Moran originally heard of PALS through friends. She signed up for the class initially not knowing a lot about what students do in the class, but she realized that she enjoyed working with younger kids in the class.

“During the application process, I learned more about the class and realized that it seemed like something I’d really like to do,” Moran said. “I have two younger siblings, and because of that, the class had a more personal aspect for me.”

For others, PALS is an opportunity to help their community. Sophomore Roman Edwards applied to PALS for next school year because Edwards feels strongly about making a beneficial impact on others in the ways PALS provides. 

“I was interested because I wanted to help younger kids with their education and teach them new things,” Edwards said. “I also wanted to make a difference by helping out.” 

Basketball coach Joseph Pendell is the sponsor for PALS at LASA. Pendell said that the start of the school year has less interaction with the elementary school students and more focus on building relationships between students in PALS so that the upperclassmen know how to work together. 

“At the start of the year, we spend about the first six weeks learning the expectations of the program and getting to know one another by exploring topics in our society, personal biases, and how we interact with each other,” Pendell said.

Following this learning portion of the school year, PALS moves on to mentoring elementary students. Once students are prepared, Moran said the students pair up with their PALees, who are students at Govalle and Overton Elementary Schools, and spend class time connecting with the students.

“We check in with the front office before going to pick up our kids from their classes,” Moran said. “We play games with them or solve puzzles. On the days that we aren’t meeting up with our PALS, we stay at LASA and have flex days or make cards for our kids.” 

Pendell said the days where students actually go to the elementary schools are very rewarding. The lessons on leadership and group communication at the beginning of the year help the upperclassmen organize a variety of activities with the students, according to Pendell.

“We visit each school weekly during the class period and provide a one-hour session working with the elementary school kids on academics, social skills, and creating a positive bond,” Pendell said. “Depending on the day, the PALS interact in a one-on-one or small group setting with their PALee. The focus is always to foster and maintain both a rapport and strong relationship built on trust and empathy.”

According to Pendell, PALS has produced excellent mentors. It is only his second year heading the program, but Pendell said the success of the collaboration with elementary schools is a credit to the PALS program.

“The students in the class do such a good job working with their PALees,” Pendell said. “I always get reports from our partnering schools on how much the younger kids enjoy working with their PALS and look forward to the meetings.” 

Being in PALS is a different experience for each individual. Moran said that it’s sometimes a struggle to get the younger kids engaged. 

“It’s sometimes really hard to connect with the kids because they’re so young and have moments where they don’t want to cooperate,” Moran said. “I think it’s important for us to remember that we can fall back on Mr. Pendell or other PALS to ask for help because sometimes we don’t have all the answers.”

For prospective PALS, the idea of being in the class is exciting. Edwards is looking forward to potentially being a PALS mentor. 

“I am most excited to travel to other schools and meet the kids that we help,” Edwards said. “I want to learn how to become a better mentor, as well as meet new people while volunteering.”

From PALS, Pendell said that students have gained the ability to create lasting impacts and hopefully have an enjoyable, rewarding experience. Pendell recommends the class to students hoping to gain leadership experience. 

“For LASA students that work well with younger kids, enjoy the mentoring process, and are looking to create a positive impact on others, I would absolutely recommend the class,” Pendell said. “I do understand that sometimes conflicts in scheduling occur, but PALS is a great way for high school students to give back to the ​community.”

Moran said that PALS has been a great learning experience for her. She and her PALees have grown together and being in PALS has fostered her skills.  

“We have made an impact on the kids because I personally have been able to watch my PALS get more confident and expressive throughout the school year,” Moran said. “One of my kids was really shy at first and didn’t like speaking in English, but now she’s the one to initiate games or talk about her weekend unprompted. At the very least, we’ve helped them create a bond with older kids who will encourage their growth.”