Peer tutors step up to help classmates

 Upper School English and science departments have created peer-tutoring programs in which older and advanced level students tutor ninth grade students. The programs hope to prompt the older students to strengthen their own skills and knowledge and to encourage the freshmen to learn from and engage with peer-tutors.

In Writing Fellows, tutors work with ninth grade students throughout the year on improving their writing mechanics and skills.

“Writing Fellows has been such an enriching experience not only because we are able to give back to our community, but also because we grow as writers by explain writing skills to others. Personally, I feel as though my writing skills strengthened and the process of writing college supplements was easier after Writing Fellows because I had to help freshman conduct their own self reflection process with their writing,” senior Kemi Akenzua said.

English teacher Dr. Elizabeth Phillips proposed the program after experiencing its success as a student at Brown University and as the program’s initiator at Barnard College.

“The writing fellows become stronger writers by thinking about writing, and the students benefit both academically and personally. The students can speak freely with a writing fellow in the way they can’t with a teacher who’s grading them. And this program is building the campus community, which is also something very important to me,” Phillips said.

Due to the success of the program in January Phillips solicited more volunteers in an email to upperclassmen. Students with a B in AP Language or B+ in American Literature could have applied by January 29 to become a fellow for the rest of the school year and the next school year. Students may also apply in April to become a writing fellow starting in the fall.

After learning about Writing Fellows and its benefits to both the tutors’ skills and to the ninth grade students’ learning, Dr. Aidyl Gonzalez, Upper School science department chair, has initiated a biology peer-tutoring program.

Gonzalez hopes that her honors biology students can be more inquisitive and vocal when learning from an AP biology student, as she has observed some students feel intimidated to ask questions during class.

“I think that my grades have improved through this program. The AP tutors definitely helped me because I was able to connect on a student-student level rather than a student-teacher level. They relate to me better because they took the class not too long ago,” freshman Safia Smith said.

Through the peer tutoring, Gonzalez hopes her AP biology students can reinforce their own knowledge and help the honors biology students tackle complex topics. Since the start of the program, she has observed improvement in test scores and intellectual understanding from both her honors and AP biology students.

If the pilot peer-tutoring program is successful, Gonzalez intends to begin peer-tutoring programs for physics and chemistry as well.

“Having a little pot of tutors- your peers- I think that’s so important. Looking for a tutor, that’s a cost. And sometimes the same problem is there. You have an older person, spending time with you, and you’re still intimidated. But having someone that’s part of your peer group is not as bad,” Gonzalez said.