By Emma Bailey, Clarion Staff Reporter, and EQ Ambassador, Fall Semester, 2021
Just last year, Inside California Education “Season 4, Episode 4”(PBS KVIE), about Social Emotional Learning in California, featured the work that First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom was initiating, including John F. Kennedy’s EQ Ambassador program and its beneficial impact. Despite this important recognition, the program is now facing cutbacks.
Students are faced with many things to balance in high school, from friendships to athletics, from clubs to homework, from jobs to personal commitments, and so much more. Over the last two years came added challenges with the pandemic, distance learning, social injustices, and other pressures. For current freshmen and sophomores, it is their first time being on John F. Kennedy campus. Juniors haven’t been at Kennedy since freshman year and they are facing a demanding course load. As for seniors, it’s their last year, and they have had distance learning for the majority of high school.
During these times, programs like Kennedy’s EQ Ambassadors are even more important. However, at the end of the first semester, it was revealed by staff to EQ Ambassadors that the program would be reduced and concerns started to spark that the program might not return next year. The EQ Ambassador program was set up in an intentional way so there are EQ Ambassadors available all 6 periods of the day. Although, now that the program has been dissolved, there are only 3 periods of EQ Ambassadors available, and that decreases the access to important mental health and peer mentoring resources.
“EQ” is an acronym for “emotional quotient” – better known as “emotional intelligence” – and is defined as the ability to value, understand and handle emotions. The EQ Ambassador program is a group of students on campus who are peer mentors, advocates of social-emotional learning, and leaders who support other students. It is, at its core, a peer mentoring program that includes one-on-one student interactions, Walk and Talks, conflict resolutions, community circles, and mindfulness resources that allow students to talk to a fellow peer when they might not feel as comfortable talking to staff or teachers. EQ Ambassadors provide support and connection to students by empathizing, and they are able to relate to students’ situations because they are going through similar situations. These resources are important because they prioritize students’ mental health and social-emotional learning, which can contribute to academic success and participation in the classroom.
This program should be prioritized now more than ever. As we return from distance learning, we are living in constant uncertainty, and students need to feel heard and valued not just as students, but also as human beings.
Impact of EQ Ambassadors
EQ Ambassador resources are vital because if students are struggling mentally and emotionally, it will be difficult for them to be successful academically. Carolyn Zierenberg – an English teacher and teacher for the 5th period EQ Ambassador class – explains the importance of EQ Ambassadors:
“When I think about the impact of EQ, I think about connectedness, so students who are struggling knowing that there is somebody who is there to listen I think has been really powerful . . . this year especially a focus on mental health support and having students who are just so empathetic and in touch with what we are all struggling with and planning activities and trying to think of how can we make it better for students.”
Jessica Bayze, a history teacher at Kennedy and advocate for social-emotional learning, began her school year at the second quarter “because I was on maternity leave, so I had to do a lot of scrambling to get to know my students. Having EQ come in and do community circles was a huge difference in my classes and the amount that students are willing to open up and talk about things – the connections students have to each other. I don’t know if I can even quantify it.”
Zierenberg had a similar experience with “ ice-breaking activities and having students talk to each other and know a little bit more about each other.”
“The impact after was really cool because I saw students more willing to talk in their groups.”
The goal of EQ Ambassadors is to support peers and create a safe space for students to talk about challenges.
Bayze’s and Zirenberg’s classrooms are two of the many that have been visited by EQ Ambassadors throughout the years.
“Having students assigned to someone that they can talk to about things makes a huge difference . . . I have had students that have met with EQ Ambassadors and I have never had a student say that it wasn’t helpful, ever,” Ms. Bayze explains.
Peer-mentoring through the EQ Ambassador program helps students to talk through issues and get advice from other students or just have someone that will listen.
Staffing shortage effect on the program
Kennedy senior Daniela Torres Melendrez, a current EQ Ambassador, says that she became involved to help make students feel safe at school, and she mentioned that the impact of the program has been minimized from lack of staffing and EQ Ambassadors being cut from the program.
Additionally, many teachers at Kennedy who have used EQ Ambassadors have witnessed the negative impacts of the cuts to the program. These include a decreased the number of EQ Ambassadors that can come into classrooms during all six periods to lead activities. It has also put pressure on current EQ ambassadors to take over mentees from previous EQ Ambassadors, meaning students have less access to mentors.
EQ Ambassadors are a resource for conflict resolution
Teachers can do their best to talk to students and resolve conflicts, but as Zirenberg describes, EQ Ambassadors are consistent mentors who relate to what students are going through.
“Instead of having a student who is just constantly getting referred out. . . [we] partner them out with a mentor who is going to give them an opportunity to reflect on their progress or to set goals one-on-one with someone who is going to check in with them,” says Zirenberg.
“That’s really important and really cool that it’s a peer as opposed to a teacher where they can be real. That’s really really powerful.”
Peer mentoring is an important resource, but now it is less accessible due to the program being reduced. Teachers utilize EQ Ambassadors to improve the classroom environment and address issues before they reach the school discipline office, so if this program is not in place it affects the classroom environment and students overall.
EQ Ambassadors are also involved with conflict resolution, peers being present during restorative conferences can increase effectiveness because students may be more likely to listen to a student than an administrator. Restorative practices give students the opportunity to reflect on what happened in the past and figure out how they want to move forward. EQ Ambassadors not only help students but are an indispensable resource for administrators and teachers when addressing conflict and using alternatives to traditional discipline.
EQ Ambassadors are role models on campus
EQ Ambassadors improve campus climate by learning and applying the skills needed to support other students and by being role models on campus. Ariana Rodriguez is a Senior at Kennedy who was an EQ Ambassador for one and a half years until she had to leave the program due to it being partially dissolved. She discussed her experience mentoring a freshman and through her mentoring, she saw her mentee improve.
Rodriguez mentioned an important point: “She probably [heard] you have to do good in school, freshman [year] counts, but coming from a student it kinda gives you a different perspective.” EQ Ambassadors have the unique opportunity to connect with students through mentoring or classroom visits, improve campus climate through campaigns and lunch activities, and to lead by example.
When students see EQ Ambassadors engaged and involved on campus, setting goals, and applying the same social-emotional skills we are teaching them, they are more likely to follow their example than if it came from a teacher or staff member.
Rodriguez also goes on to state: “You have to be a role model. When we went back to school last year I was like oh wait I am an EQ Ambassador! I have to go to class, do my homework, and walk around . . . I need to find that motivation . . I have to do good in school, [I am a] senior, EQ Ambassador, cheerleader . . . if freshmen or sophomores see me goofing around, they are going to [say] if an . . . EQ Ambassador can do that, I can do it.”
Being an EQ Ambassador teaches you a lot about yourself: mindfulness, leadership, conflict resolution, and social-emotional learning. We have a responsibility, as EQ Ambassadors, to use what we have learned to be positive role models on campus.
Jacki Glasper, former Assistant principal and supervisor of the EQ Ambassador program sees value in teaching students “those skills so you can model it for your peers and when you are working with students. The biggest impact I think [the program] has is on the EQ Ambassadors themselves because I think that you all learn these things because you are teaching other people . . . and then it kind of spreads . . . to the students you are mentoring or the ones that you do restorative conferences with or walk and talks but I have also seen it spread to just your friend group because you are learning these skills and they are working.”
EQ Ambassadors can start a ripple effect by passing on what they learn about stress management, community building exercises, mindfulness practices, and developing empathy throughout the Kennedy community.
The EQ Ambassador program provides a safe space for students to be heard and allows for further growth and change. This program’s resources should be accessible for everyone. If a student would like to meet with an EQ Ambassador, speak with a teacher and they will get you connected with someone to schedule a Walk and Talk. If a teacher would like EQ Ambassadors to visit their classroom and lead a community circle or do a Walk and Talk with a student or if a student would like a mentor you can follow the links to fill out a request form.
This program has positively impacted EQ Ambassadors, students, teachers, and administrators and as a student body, we have the power to advocate for something that can help continue to improve our school and benefit students.
Glasper stated – “I think that student voice and student leadership is the foundation for all things great. I really strongly believe in student voice and I think that [students] underestimate their voice when they really want something . . . it means a lot and I think that people listen to you more than you realize.”