New peer tutoring program aims to help failing students before it’s too late

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Brooke Shimasaki, Co-Online Feature Editor

Students go to class each day, listen to the teacher, and read the textbook – but these steps do not always equate to passing grades or full comprehension.

It is sometimes intimidating to ask teachers for help and ineffective to read and reread a textbook with confusing vocabulary.  Before students completely give up on schoolwork, Bear Creek Staff are hoping that students will take advantage of the newest studying tool:  peer tutors.

In the 2013-2014 school year, students earned 691 D’s and F’s.   Nearly 70 percent of those earning low grades were underclassman, demonstrating to staff that academic assistance needs to be focused toward freshman and sophomores.

Freshmen earned the majority of Principal Bill Atterberry’s concern.

“As freshmen, if [they] start to fail classes, you lose them and they never recover,” Atterberry said.  “They are a major focus.”

With the mission to “Help all students succeed,” Bear Creek educators decided to implement the peer tutoring program.  Lodi High School offers a similar, successful tutorial program, which Bear Creek used as its model.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, 20 minutes are added between first and second periods for students to seek guidance and assistance from volunteer student tutors.

After being selected from a pool of applicants, peer tutors participate in a training program provided by AVID.

“They [the AVID trainers] taught me to tutor in a different way,” junior Justin Layman said.  “The tutees have to find the answers themselves so they can really learn.”

In many cases, tutees seek clarification on content that they did not comprehend when taught in class.  Tutors must internalize information so they can reword it in a conversational and understandable manner.

Sophomore Kailee Nakatsu has attended seven tutoring sessions and says that she has benefitted from getting clarification on homework.

“[The tutors] make it easier for me to understand,” Nakatsu said.  “The teachers use those high vocabulary words but the students [tutors] put it in ways that we can understand.”

Tutor Aidan Backus has noticed that students he tutors are struggling because they cannot comprehend the vocabulary that teachers and textbooks use.

“The main problem was that they [the tutee] didn’t understand English well enough to understand their teachers or their textbook and they were incapable of learning anything without having a medium helping them understand it,” Backus said.

Backus suggest that changes should be made on an institutional level in order to accommodate these pupils.

Aside from simply going over schoolwork, Backus, like other tutors, has taken his job a step further by sharing tips that will be effective even after high school.

“We are mostly just helping by explaining how to use dictionaries and Google… and that is by far the most important thing we teach,” Backus said.

Because of the bi-weekly tutoring sessions, participants not only see an improvement in their grades but also in the tutor-tutee relationship.

“Over the past weeks, we have come to a point where it’s not awkward around each other,” Layman said. “I feel comfortable around him.”

Freshman Shamarr Hatfield has attended tutoring every day that it was available.  By seeing his tutor on a biweekly basis, Hatfield appreciates that his tutor understands and believes in him.

“I told her I did well on my test,” Hatfield said.  “She knew I could do it.  She knew I had the potential to do good on the test.”

The benefit of peer tutoring is that participants connect on a more personal level in a safe environment where tutees feel comfortable asking questions and seeking further clarification. Hatfield benefits from having one-on-one assistance because his tutor knows him well and can clearly identify his academic strengths and weaknesses.

Hatfield said his tutor has had a great impact on his life, helping with more than just school work.

“She puts ideas in my head like possible things I can do after high school,” Hatfield said.

Atterberry encourages more students to utilize the tutoring program.

“It isn’t just an opportunity for kids to get tutored but an opportunity for other kids to get together and focus on a project,” Atterberry said.