Avery Johnson, peer tutor, helps first grader Ava Preston complete an art project in Katelyn Gannon's class at O'Loughlin Elementary School.
By CRISTINA JANNEY
After more than 20 years, the Hays Middle School Peer Tutor program continues to grow and be a benefit to both students and teachers.
Students are bused, or walk in the case of Wilson Elementary, to schools in the district to help teachers and other students. Peer tutors are placed at HMS, all four of the elementary schools and the Early Childhood Complex.
Students in grades six through eight in both general education and special education — 176 in all — are volunteering as peer tutors this semester. Donna Lubbers, HMS counselor, said at a recent school board meeting, when she first started working with the program, she placed only 10 peer tutors.
Lubbers attributed much of the success of the program to the students.
"I think that speak volumes of our students, because they are the ones who have really sold the program," Lubbers said. "I have more and more teachers. Many of these teachers here behind me make the program work because most of these teachers have peer tutors in their classrooms."
Peer tutor Avery Johnson, eighth grader, said she likes being a peer tutor, "because it gives you a chance to interact with little kids and get more involved with kids as you grow up."
The day Hays Post visited Katelyn Gannon's first-grade class, Avery was helping student Ava Preston complete an art project.
"Avery does an awesome job working with students," Gannon said, "by adding that extra intervention piece when needed that I can't always do by myself. She is great checking papers if I need her to or helping students individually if I need her to."
Chantel Gonzalez, peer tutor, works in Sarah Smith's fifth-grade class at O'Loughlin Elementary School.
Chantel Gonzalez, eighth grader, said talking to the students in Sarah Smith's, fifth-grade class has helped her learn to better communicate.
"I work with fifth-graders so I can teach them how to be prepared for sixth grade," Gonzalez said. "I interact with them, and they can talk to me whenever they need it."
Peer tutor Keira Gray, seventh grader, said she can relate to the fifth-graders she works with in Sonya Herl's fifth-grade class at O'Loughlin Elementary School.
"I feel like like the ones who need to talk, they can talk to me a lot better becuase they can relate to me a lot more," she said. "They are just fun to work with in general. They are all really just great kids."
Herl said Gray is a role model for her students.
"She was a former student in my classroom, and the students feel very connected to her because of this," she said. "She is very helpful to me as she is an extra hand who can assist with students who might need individual or small group help.
"Keira is a talented writer. I have actually shared some of her writing as an example when we are working on specific types of essays. My class loves that they have been able to meet her since they have already experienced her work when she was in my classroom in fifth grade."
Peer tutor Keira Gray, seventh grader, works in Sonya Herl's fifth-grade class at O'Loughlin Elementary School.
"I feel that Keira should feel very valued," Herl said. "My students love being helped by her. They show her respect and see her as a friend they now know from the middle school.
"We have talked in our classroom how Keira will already know them next year when she is an eighth-grade student, and they are new sixth graders. That can be a very positive for my class to be a friend to an older student."
Ruby Fields, seventh grader and peer tutor for Michelle Callahan's kindergarten class, said she also liked getting to know the students.
Fields said she hopes to some day teach dance and will likely be working with children.
"It's a learning experience," she said, "and I really love helping kids so its a good opportunity."
Ruby Fields, peer tutor, helps kindergartener Landry Callahan with spelling at Roosevelt Elementary School.
Callahan said the peer tutors help her students to make another connection with someone older who they can see as a buddy.
"It's really great with a child who may be struggling with a concept to sit with a peer tutor and receive that extra help," she said. ...
"Kindergarteners love everybody, so when someone new comes into the classroom, it's really exciting. It's really fun. They could be doing the world's most difficult assignment, but if I put them next to a peer tutor, it is seen as a game. It is seen as a privilege if you get chosen to work with the peer tutor that day. It is another way to make learning fun for that day."
Peer tutor Kailey Delimont listens to Carson Crough, first grader, read at Roosevelt Elementary School.
Lubbers said the peer tutoring program can be very beneficial to the special education students who participate in the program as peer tutors.
"This really gives them an opportunity to succeed that they might not normally have. Sometimes we might have students who struggle in traditional classes who go on to be a peer tutor and I receive rave reviews from their supervising teachers.
"It greatly benefits their self-esteem. They can now go into a younger classroom and be a leader, honestly be a little hero to these younger students who really grow to look up to them."
This course offering equates to one to one-and-half instructional positions. The district would have to offer more electives and hire another staff person if the peer tutor program did not exist, Lubbers, who organizes the program, said.
Lubbers said the demand by students for the peer students class outpaces the space available. Seventy-six teachers in the district utilize the tutors.
Lubbers said she teaches the peer tutors their work is almost like a job. They have to be responsible and serve as role models to other students, she said.
Roles of the peer tutors include
• Assist in general and special education rooms
• Assist students individually or in small groups
• Recess buddies
• Assist students in computer labs
• Help students with corrections
• Tutor students on homework
• Engage in developmental play
• Develop instructional materials for teachers
• Complete classroom related tasks
Peer tutor Blake Pflaum, seventh grader, helps students at O'Loughlin Elementary School play a math game.
"If our peer tutors miss, our teachers miss them greatly," Lubbers said. "They know exactly what they need from that student when they come into their room and they grow to depend on them."
Board member Luke Oborny said, "One of the positive things I see is the lives they touch. We are looking at 170 students, but they are touching the other 2,800. I don't think you can quantify the high fives and the little things that might make a difference to all of those other students."
Some of the students Lubbers had in her peer tutor program are now studying to be teachers.
Disclosure: Ruby Fields is the daughter of Ron Fields, who works for Eagle Radio, parent company of Hays Post.