Learning from the past while welcoming the new

28 students selected as 2023-24 PALs


Photo courtesy of Mason Wasserbuger

ALL TOGETHER: Students in the 2022-23 PALs program pose together. The existing PALs helped to interview and select the incoming members.

Emerson Traugott, Photo Essay Editor

After every applicant’s interview is complete and several days of deliberation from the existing PALS members, the announcement and letters of acceptance are sent out to the new and returning members. A total of 28 students participate in the 2023-2024 chapter. 

PALS is a small and select group chosen based on their aptitude for leadership and ability to act as role models to younger students in AISD. The class is taught by Jaqueline Gonzales, who also sponsors the National Honor Society. 

“PALS has really changed my values as a person because before I was very academically driven and I only valued my academics,” junior and first-year PALS member Olivia DeVore said. “But once I joined PALS I realized that the real value is in your relationships with people and how you impact them, and not only that but the people you surround yourself with, and the program really taught me that.”

Every year the organization receives nearly 60 applications, however, this year has exceeded the average amount with 70 students who applied and participated in interviews. There are only 28 seats available, eight of which are held by preexisting members.

“I wanted to be in PALS because as a kid I was a PAL-E and I guess I want to see it come full circle and give back in that way,” junior and new member William Gum said. “But I also really love the community that PALS has with a lot of really fun people and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

All interviews are conducted over the course of two days. Every interested student gets ten minutes in a room with the existing members of PALS. They run through possible emergency scenarios that could occur at elementary school and they will also ask questions in reference to the applicant’s essay as well as random icebreakers.

“We are just looking for a genuine applicant who wants to help the community, a lot of the people we interview just do it for the college resume,” junior first-year PALS student Mason Wasserbuger said. “And people being honest with us really helps.” 

If the class likes an applicant and thinks they deserve a second interview they will put a star by their name. However, the choice between who gets a star and who doesn’t isn’t always unanimous. 

“We definitely had some tough calls this year, but if the class is stuck between two people that should move on to the second interview we let Ms. Gonzales make the final call,” Wasserbuger said. 

The application can be a nerve-racking process for all 70 applicants who were interviewed by their peers, having mere minutes to leave a good first impression. 

“I applied last year and unfortunately didn’t get in so when I went in for my interview this year I kind of just had the mindset of “let’s just see what happens”. I didn’t want to care too much if I got rejected, but just go in because I had the opportunity to do so I just made an effort to be as friendly and polite as possible,” Gum said, “And not that anyone who didn’t get in isn’t those things there just happen to be a very limited amount of seats available, but I think it did help that I was a rising senior, which I feel they kind of prioritize because this is your last chance.” 

Once every student who made it past the first and second rounds of interviews and landed on the roster for next year, returning PALS members reach out and organize a ‘get together’ so the transition into next year is as smooth as possible. 

“We do a lot of trust-based work, for instance, we do blindfold walks around the school and you have to rely on someone else from the class entirely,” DeVore said. “And we go out to lunch as a group and all of these other things that kind of solidify us as an organization.”

PALS is a demanding organization and requires students to be attentive and caring, setting the moral standard for their peers as well as the younger students they visit nearly every week. 

“Starting in October after the two months of training and team building, we start going out to schools,” Wasserbuger said. “On Tuesdays we go to Cowl Elementary then to Barenoff, for about 20 to 25 minutes, where we are each assigned a PAL-e. Then on Thursdays, Clayton and Mills Elementary and do the same thing that day.” 

PALS is one of many volunteer-based student organizations, focusing on the improvement of mentorship and empathetic relationships with students throughout the district. 

“I think PALS differs from other organizations at Bowie like StuCo in the way that it is less of a leadership position,” DeVore said. “You are more of a mentor, so you are not really leading these kids you help out in any way, you’re just kind of a friend.”

Despite the time commitment, PALS helps participants develop positive and supportive networks with peers and younger students, preparing these students for the future. 

“One of the greatest benefits I’ve received from this class has been the opportunity to feel like a little kid again and see the joy on the kids’ faces when you walk into their class and they see you,” Wasserbuger said. “And knowing that you are really making an impact on someone’s life. You don’t go there to fix them, you are there as someone to have fun with and something to look forward to.”