A parent of one of his former students referred to Draper as “one of those once in a lifetime teachers” in a nomination letter for Distinguished Young Alumnus, detailing the profound impact of a peer mentoring program created by the Massapequa High School health education teacher.
Draper, a Massapequa School District teacher for seven years, drew up the blueprint for the Senior Nation, a yearlong project in which high school juniors and seniors teach important decision-making and health lessons to freshmen. At Massapequa, ninth graders learn in a school building separate from the main high school campus.
“Without benefit of budget or stipend, Draper created a program born only out of his drive and his deep concern for children,” wrote Kevin Sheehan, an assistant professor at Molloy College and Draper’s nominator. “…As a longtime consultant for Massapequa, I am not sure if I have ever witnessed a program that made a greater impact on a school district for less of a cost.”
The Senior Nation operates in two phases. During the first phase, Draper teaches upperclass mentors how to peer teach. They, in turn, travel by bus to the ninth grade building twice per week to teach lessons about issues such as evaluating choices and handling stress.
During the second phase of the program, freshmen students visit the high school’s main campus to shadow an upperclassman for several hours. The experience can contribute to a smooth transition when the younger students attend high school, Draper said.
“It’s hard not to feel physically separated, so this program brings them together to make that connection,” Draper said.
In its first year, 18 students participated in the peer mentoring project. This year, 85 students joined the Senior Nation. What’s even more impressive is that the program operates on a paper-thin budget. A small grant, a bake sale and $20 per student affords a group t-shirt and several lunches throughout the year.
“I can’t take credit for all of it,” said Draper, who won a citation from his town supervisor for the program in 2011. “The kids help out a bunch. I think a lot of times, juniors and seniors get as much out of it as the freshmen. If they think something’s not right, they’ll change it up. I’ll monitor from the sidelines a lot of times.”
Now, Draper is working to implement teambuilding activities into the program, noting that SUNY Cortland did the same at the Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education Center at Raquette Lake for its student teachers when he was a physical education major.
“At Cortland, I had the opportunity to learn from great role models for teaching,” said Draper, mentioning SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of Kinesiology Joy Hendrick by name. “You could tell they cared about their students and that they were realists.”
Less than a decade after graduating from the College, the same can be said for the young health educator.
The Long Beach, N.Y., resident also holds a master’s degree in education from Hofstra University and a Certificate of Advanced Study in educational leadership from Stony Brook University. He taught seventh grade health education at A.G. Berner Middle School in the Massapequa School District for five years prior to moving to the high school in 2010.
Draper, who also serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the Massapequa High School boys lacrosse team, played four years for the College’s men’s lacrosse squad, earning its Red Letter Award in 2003. The award is given for outstanding athletic skills, team leadership, personal development as a player, or for any combination of reasons.