From discussions about race and gender discrimination to school spirit initiatives, the Cedar Shoals peer leadership program has become a household name throughout Athens with 154 alumni by the end of the 2021 spring semester.
Formerly known as the Freshman Academy Mentors (FAM), the program was originally established as an after-school mentorship club between upperclassmen and freshmen in 2016.
“12 students came to me with the idea of the club. They wanted to help change the culture and climate of Cedar Shoals,” former peer leadership teacher Katie Johnson said.
After two years of working with the club and then three years with the class, Johnson has moved to a new position at Clarke Middle School as spectrum coordinator for 8th grade and peer leadership director.
“There is going to be a peer leader group in every grade of Clarke Middle. For the first time within Clarke County, I’m not teaching my curriculum. I am training other teachers to run their own peer leadership programs,” Johnson said.
Before she left, she passed off the keys of room D101 to local hip-hop artist and event promoter William “Montu” Miller, a new addition to Cedar’s staff and the new program leader.
“I was ecstatic when Montu got the position because he is a great leader in the community,” Johnson said.
The long term Athens resident and University of Georgia graduate moved from Clarke Central High School, where he worked as a paraprofessional and with the special education department.
“My time as a parapro allowed me to really get sharp, because I’m not coming straight out of undergrad into the classroom,” Miller said.
The start of each class begins with students filling in a starter with previous knowledge they have on the daily topic or answering a question prompt. One starter prompt asks, “Why do you think learning about different cultures is important?”
Next, class continues with a short video on the topic and then group discussion, followed by the completion of an assignment.
Miller believes the type of organization that teaching the course requires differs from his previous job experiences.
“When I was on stage, doing some mentoring or out in the community I was freestyling, but here I have to be organized,” Miller said.
New like Miller, this school year is sophomore Ethan Oliver’s first time with the Cedar Peer Leadership program. Oliver joined after hearing about the class from friends.
“I like the course very much. I get to talk with my classmates about real world problems and I’m learning how to speak clearly to an audience,” Oliver said.
He enjoys Miller’s teaching style in addition to the class discussions.
“I think Mr. Montu is the best teacher I’ve ever had. He’s never spoken to us sternly, he’s always clear with us and lets us do our own thing,” Oliver said.
Miller hopes to create bonds with students and plans to continue the freshman mentoring aspect of the program while emphasizing leadership outside of school.
“I would love to take the peer leadership class outside of the classroom and see leaders in action. For example: business leaders, government leaders, or even go to a Board of Education meeting,” Miller said.
Getting students involved with local leadership is high on Miller’s list of priorities for the course.
“I just want them (the students) to see good models of leadership in our community,” Miller said.
Senior Arlin Juarez believes her two years in peer leadership with Johnson improved her self confidence.
“When I first started the program I was really shy. I would stay all the way in the back and not speak to anyone. Ms. Johnson broke me out of that shell,” Juarez said.
She hopes that Montu will have the same effect on the new peer leaders.
“He just needs to get more comfortable with us and break students out of their shells,” Juarez said.
Overall, Miller hopes the course will beneficially impact all aspects of students’ lives, specifically their relations with the community.
“I want this to be more than a class that is contained in these four walls, I want this to be something community wide,” Miller said.