Canyon Crest Academy’s PALs help students connect on Carmel Valley campus

Having moved four times and attended eight different schools, Emmy Farese knows how it feels to be “the new kid.” That’s why the Canyon Crest Academy junior joined PALs, a group of student leaders that helps connect students on the Carmel Valley campus.

“I didn’t want other kids to feel that way, (whether) they are from a different school or coming from one of the middle schools,” Emmy said. “I know how it feels, and it’s not fun.”

Designed as a confidential peer support system, the PALs (Purposeful Action Listeners/Leaders) program provides students with academic, social and emotional support and gives them an opportunity to talk with someone their own age.

From academics to relationships, students can chat with PALs during lunchtime in the counseling office on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and after school in the counseling office every day.

“I saw a need for more connection among the student body, and I wanted to be one of the people to help bridge that gap,” said junior Hannah Green. “I wanted to create a sense of warmth and better understanding.”

“We strive to promote student connectivity and give back to our school,” added senior Lena Altaffer, one of three PALs who participated in the program during its inaugural year.

With encouragement from former principal Brian Kohn, Spanish teacher Laura Krogh launched the program last year. As a former PAL in high school and a new-student orientation leader in college, Krogh was excited to bring the program to the CCA campus.

“Our students are very academic, so sometimes that social-emotional piece gets pushed to the back burner, because these students are so overwhelmed with their workload,” said Krogh, who has taught Spanish at CCA for seven years and has worked in the San Dieguito Union High School District for 11 years.

“Students need to feel connected. It’s not just about being in a classroom and learning. Kids need to feel accepted, and that feeling of needing to fit in is so important — elementary school, middle school, high school — it doesn’t go away.”

Founded in 2004, CCA now has 2,000 students, Krogh said. She noted the school recently welcomed its largest freshman class — nearly 700 students.

“It’s overwhelming to find your place on campus,” she said.

PALs recently teamed with students from CCA’s Associated Student Body to welcome freshmen. During lunchtime every Thursday, PALs also host a picnic on the lawn so students can form new friendships.

“I really wanted to become a PAL because I think there is definitely a special place for every student at CCA,” said Marisa, a junior at CCA. “There’s a unique niche for everyone. Sometimes it’s just hard to find it.”

While Marisa has helped her fellow students find their niche, she’s also found her place as a PAL. A dancer since she was 2, she spends much of her free time competing and performing off-campus. The PALs program has provided her an opportunity to get more involved in school.

“My favorite part about being a PAL is how it is like a family,” she said. “Even after just a month or so, we’re now super-close. They’re like my brothers and sisters.”

Headed by Krogh, the 90-minute class meets every day. At the start of the year, students undergo two weeks of intense training, where they learn about listening and confidentiality.

There were 38 students — most seniors — in the inaugural PALs class. To create an even closer group, Krogh selected only 17 students for this year’s program.

The application process for new PALs begins during spring semester. Students must obtain a letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor and interview for the yearlong program, which begins in the fall.

“It’s highly selective, because we want to make sure that these students are the cream of the crop and their intentions are right,” Krogh said. “These kids really care about kids getting connected on campus. They are loving their high school experience and they want others to feel the same way.”

For information about the PAL program, visit www.ccapals.com.

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