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Peer tutoring builds students' skills, confidence

Friday, November 2, 2012

(Sentinel photo by Amy Erickson) Le Mars High School sophomore Nic Madsen helps sixth grader Aidan McClure with his homework while sophomore Britney Thompson quizzes sixth grader Trent Kliever for an upcoming test. Students such as these are participating in a peer tutoring program for middle schoolers who may be struggling in the classroom.
Le Mars Community high schoolers and middle schoolers are putting their heads together in a tutoring program.

The tutoring gives younger students such as Aidan McClure and Zach Rolfes a little extra one-on-one help with assignments from high school-age tutors.

The tutoring sessions occur during a 30-minute period, called studyback, at the end of the middle school student's day.

(Sentinel photo by Amy Erickson) Le Mars Community Middle School Academy teacher Carrie Campbell looks through seventh grader Zach Rolfes' folder of papers with the help of LCHS senior Emily Ellefson during studyback earlier this week. Rolfes and Ellefson have been paired for a student peer tutoring program, started by Campbell.
Earlier this week, McClure, a sixth grader, said it's fun to work with his sophomore tutor, Nic Madsen.

"If I have a question, I can ask him and he can show me how to do it," McClure said.

Madsen said he volunteered for the job at the request of Nicki Addison, high school counselor.

He thinks the tutoring sessions with McClure have been going well, Madsen said.

"He's really improving a lot," Madsen said.

Senior Emily Ellefson said she likes helping people including Rolfes, her seventh grade partner.

"He just needs someone to guide him through his homework and help get it done," Ellefson said.

Rolfes said before working with Ellefson he just didn't want to do his assignments.

"Any homework I have, if I need help she will help me," Rolfes said. "It's less to do at home. I get better grades."

Ellefson was the first to volunteer for the peer tutoring program, started by Carrie Campbell, Academy teacher at the middle school.

Campbell said pairing older students with younger ones for tutoring just kind of evolved.

"It started with students in different grade levels that I was trying to help," she said. "I couldn't focus and meet the needs of both of them."

That's when Ellefson joined the effort working with one student while Campbell worked with the other.

From there, as middle school teachers heard about the tutoring, Campbell said she received more names of students who could benefit from the one-on-one help.

With Addison's assistance, Campbell identified other high school students willing to help.

"(Now) we're at six to seven high school students and seven to eight middle school students that are getting a whole new experience," Campbell said.

Having the high school students allows more middle schoolers to get the one-on-one help they need, she said.

"Not only does it help them with their school work, but it also builds their confidence and shows them that maybe down the road 'I can be a tutor once I reach high school,'" Campbell said.

She said the majority of middle school students who participate in the mentoring program are those she sees throughout the day in her Academy classroom.

Those classes are geared toward students who are not proficient in math or literacy based on their scores on the annual Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Campbell explained.

Since the peer tutoring began, there have been improvements among the middle schoolers whether it be better grades or finishing assignments, Campbell said.

"The progress they're making is not drastic by any means, but they're further ahead than they would be without the assistance," she said.

The biggest result she's seen from the peer tutoring program is the self-confidence building aspect for the younger students, Campbell said.

"Even just getting a little assignment done or getting a B instead of a C, that really does a lot to motivate them to see whether they can get an A next time," she said.

Campbell said she plans to continue the peer mentoring program as long as she has high school students willing to volunteer their time.

"I think you'll always have those people who are going to need the assistance," she said. "Instead of letting them fall through the cracks, let's build them up and help them be successful in school."

It's not only sixth, seventh and eighth graders who benefit from the peer tutoring program, but also the older students, Campbell said.

"I think it shows the high school kids some responsibility and it gives them a sense of pride because they are helping somebody younger who they're role models for," she said.

It also lets the high schoolers feel like they are making a contribution.

The idea that those students give up their study halls or open periods is a selfless act, Campbell said.

"A half-hour out of study hall is a half-hour out of study hall," she said. "In high school that's going to mean taking an assignment home."

Madsen doesn't mind giving up his study hall, in fact he said being a tutor gives him a glimpse into a potential future.

"I kind of want to be a teacher," he said.

Ellefson doesn't see giving up her open period at the end of the day as a sacrifice.

She's been tutoring other students throughout her high school career, she said.

"It will help a lot of students get on track if they are falling behind or lose their motivation," Ellefson said.

Campbell said she's thankful for the high school volunteers.

"I really appreciate these high school kids who come down," she said. "I know the middle school kids appreciate it, too."

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