At Lackawanna Middle School, a few dozen students make up the Lackawanna Leaders. It's a new program meant to build self-esteem, emotional development and improve the mental health of the students.
The program was first introduced last school year and, after seeing some early success, the Lackawanna City School District and organizers have decided to expand it to high school students this year.
"Some of the kids really benefit from that extra attention, that feeling of welcoming and belonging," Lackawanna Middle School Assistant Principal David Hall explained.
The program is coordinated through Compeer, a local organization dedicated to improving mental health for people of all ages.
"They all have really powerful stories and we're able to modify our approach based on their needs," Compeer's Director of Youth Services Ashleigh Cieri said.
Compeer works with youth mentors through Americorps Builds Lives through Education (ABLE). The mentors run small group sessions and work with students 1-on-1 to address different struggles they might be facing. Lackawanna Leaders utilizes "positive action", an evidence-based educational model that focuses on building positive attitudes in the students.
"They're just happy to see us and they just seem happier in their day to day lives when they interact with other students and teachers," Arwa Yossif, an ABLE youth mentor, said. "They seem more motivated to do classwork and more motivated to kind of be in school."
According to data collected by Compeer, many students in Lackawanna Leaders have shown improved attendance, grades and behavior in class.
"They feel like they can come in and sit down and talk to us and they know that they're not going to be judged. We're here to help them," Hannah Kroll-Haeick, also an ABLE youth mentor, explained.
After the pilot program last year, 96 percent of middle school teachers surveyed by Compeer reported improved behavior in the students. The teachers also said students "could better manage their emotions".