Rhea Rungta

Rhea Rungta, president of the Desert Vista Peer-to-Peer Tutoring Club and club founder Dr. Brian Johnson, a Spanish teacher, discussed the program at last week’s Tempe Union board meeting.

The last 12 months have been brutal for students, as Tempe Union High School District pupils can attest.

But amid the scheduling and other disruptions that have impacted their academic and social lives, one constant has been the Desert Vista High Peer-to-Peer Tutoring Club.

Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil opened a presentation on the club by praising their dedication to helping their classmates – which this year has extended not just to fellow Desert Vista students but all seven district high schools.

“They have been able to reach an average of 2,000 students every year,” Mendivil said. “Even through the pandemic, they adjusted to our environment and continue to offer virtual peer tutoring services for students…. I would also like to thank them for opening their arms to all students in the district and offered up their tutoring Services. They should be commended for their dedication to providing help and support to their peers and their sister schools.”

Desert Vista Spanish teacher Dr. Brian Johnson started the program 10 years ago as part of his studies toward his doctorate in leadership and Innovation from Arizona State University.

“My dissertation focused on what constitutes an ideal tutor and ideal tutoring session,” he explained, stressing “our current model did not happen overnight.”

“Each year we continue to learn, refine and build off of our successes and our shortcomings,” Johnson said. “Without the Desert Vista community and staff, this tutoring program would not be in existence and I can’t thank them enough for that now.”

He praised the 70 student tutors, stating, “They are so caring, kind, dedicated. They freely give of their time before school, after school, in the evenings, Saturdays. And some of them give their time during their breaks, like spring break.”

They also are available from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Pointing to club President Rhea Rungta, he said called her “truly awe-inspiring” and reported that she devoted some hours of her spring break to tutoring students – part of the “remarkable 50 times” she has done so throughout the school year so far.”

Indeed, he said that as coordinator of the tutoring schedule, he said it was commonplace to see Rhea slated to provide help after school hours many weekdays, including Fridays.

“Personally, I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had this year to lead the organization,” Rhea told the board, stating she herself has learned things as well – such as “the importance of listening to ideas and concerns from other tutors, teachers and fellow officers” of the club.

Those officers include Vice President Allen Lin, Secretary Nicole Spreitzer, Treasurer Patrick Jiang, Outreach Director Emily Wong and Outside Tutoring Director Ameerah Zafar.

The club has a variety of ways students can find help from their peers, ranging from drop-in and scheduled sessions. This year the club also implemented an online cram session for final exams.

Rhea also had high praise for the students who seek the tutors’ help and for what the club accomplishes.

“It takes a lot of courage for them to come in and I feel so honored every time they come back and every time they let us know that we have instilled confidence in them. To me, tutoring is more than just a place to help increase their academic capabilities. Tutoring is a place to help them and instill confidence and for them to know that they are an environment where they feel supported.”

Johnson concurred, saying that besides academic achievement, students who seek tutors develop positive relationships, learn to cope with stress, develop a sense of belonging – and even “find purpose in life.”

Ironically, as Johnson and Rhea told the board about the club, there was one board member who was particularly familiar with what it does: newly elected board member Armando Montero was president of the club before he graduated in 2019, heading to Arizona State University where he is in his sophomore year.

Johnson said he feels he is “standing on the shoulders of giants” that included past Desert Vista principals and current Principal Mike Deignan – and Montero, who, he said, “was instrumental in helping our program to get to where it is today now.”

Before the pandemic, staff academic interventionists and counselors would routinely oversee 80 or more pairs of tutors and their classmates in the library.

Tutoring now is mostly virtual, Johnson said, which “has allowed us to reach the unreachable.”

“Doing it this way removes the barriers of time and space,” Johnson said. “We have realized the value of virtual tutoring especially for those students who work, those who take the bus, those who participate in extracurricular activities.

“And I believe that the ideal scenario is to have in-person and virtual tutoring,” he continued “It’s been really neat how having a pandemic would be the genesis of this virtual shooting. It’s definitely a positive thing now.”

He said the online tutoring enables them to offer 250 30-minute sessions a week, though the actual number of students who have taken advantage of the club this year “has been quite a bit lower” than the previous eight years.

Parents or students can sign up at       dvhspeertutoring.wixsite.com/dvpto.

That platform enables students to upload questions for tutors ahead of time, upload documents and even upload pictures of their homework.

It’s also “very common to see students request the same tutor and this is a great relationship-building experience for both of them,” Johnson added.

Added Rhea, “The tutees come in, unsure of how you can help. But they leave after one or many sessions as changed individuals because they have confidence in themselves. …Peer tutoring is a safe place for many students on campus.”

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