Students at Akimel A-al Middle School who are struggling academically have been finding help from those who came before them.
This year several Desert Vista High School students are tutoring the middle school students and the relationship has been so successful that the teacher who helped organize it hopes to expand it next year.
The high school students started in September dropping by before classes on Thursday mornings and the enthusiasm and results were impressive enough that veteran teacher Barbara Mallory added an after-school session on Wednesdays.
The arrangement is an outgrowth of a long-standing peer-tutoring program at Desert Vista in which more than 100 students provide one-on-one help to classmates,
Dr. Brian Johnson, now in his 13th year teaching Spanish at the high school, started the peer-tutoring program seven years ago when as part of his doctoral work in education leadership at Arizona State University.
The tutors, all volunteers, spend one to five hours a week working with fellow students before and after school as well as during a Thursday “academic hour” at the Desert Vista library.
Although Johnson said the school has not scientifically measured the outcome of the program, “counselors say they’ve seen awesome things” in terms of the students who are helped.
While the Desert Vista tutors provide help in any subject, Johnson said the majority of those who seek their help look for it with math.
He surmised that’s because “there’s a big emphasis on” the subject and it has a more objective foundation than subjective subjects such as English literature.
While students can earn credits for National Honor Society and other applications, Johnson said most of the tutors do it simply because they want to help.
The arrangement with Akimel originated after a chat between tutor Sonia Dias and Mallory.
“That got this whole thing started,” Johnson said. “Sonia came to me and said Barbara had raised the idea and I thought it was worth pursuing.”
Four Desert Vista students volunteered when the call went out for tutors at Akimel. They are Rebecca DeCero, Alex Hawkins, Jenna Cooley and Sana Gill. Sana is one of Desert Vista’s valedictorians this year.
They have been an effective addition at Akimel, Mallory said.
Mallory recalled that one mother expressed surprise and profound gratitude that her son, who had been struggling with math, responded so well to his tutor’s guidance.
“His mom said ‘He gets it finally,’” Mallory said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
The tutors are available to all grades 6 through 8 at Akimel and for all subjects, though the need there also seems the greatest in math, she said.
“Private tutors like this would charge $40 or $50 an hour,” Mallory noted.
Both the younger and older students have enjoyed the interaction, she said.
The program has not only yielded academic results, but others as well.
“They’ve been great role models for the younger students,” Mallory said of the Thunder tutors.
“They tell the younger students they can sympathize with them, that they had the same challenges when they were their age,” Mallory explained, noting that such reassurances help the younger students overcome their frustration and patiently master the problematic areas of the subject material.
It’s rare that the tutors have more than two students to work with and more often than not, there is a sufficient number and enough time for one-on-one sessions.
A teacher for 24 years who is finishing her second master’s degree – this time on education administration – Mallory said she is pleased with the way the arrangement has worked out.
“It’s amazing how much they can cover in one session,” she said, adding that she’d like to expand the program next school year and take it to the next level.
One of her big challenges is figuring out how to get more middle school students interested in getting help from the volunteer tutors.
Though she and some of her colleagues have marketed the program to students, she said, “We’re trying to figure out how to reach more and get more of them involved.”
“I would like to take this to the next level,” she added.
Johnson is evaluating the tutoring program’s future at Desert Vista, since students “are so busy that not as many stay after school.”
He said he has been studying a potential arrangement with an online tutoring program called Skooli that enables kids to get that extra help at home by just logging on.
Regardless of how the program shapes up in the future, Johnson sees it continuing at Akimel and even growing.
“O certainly see it continuing and maybe even helping at other schools near us as well,” he said.