Peer tutoring turns students into teachers

By Greg Gelpi

At Jonesboro High School, the students have become the teachers.

Arriving at school before most and leaving school after most, four Jonesboro High seniors are succeeding where teachers previously had not.

Working as peer tutors, Laura McMillan, Carrie Wilson, Sarah Witherington and Brett Stuart, are using their age to their advantage in reaching and teaching fellow classmates.

On such student, sophomore Chris Kinnaman, woke up early to get extra help on molecular and empirical formulas for chemistry class.

"Every time I come in here they have something they teach me," Kinnaman said. "It's a lot easier learning from someone my age. I guess they joke around more and put it into words I understand."

In classes of more than 30 students, teachers can't provide the individual attention that the peer tutors can provide, he said.

The peer tutors filled out applications with Clayton County Public Schools, went through fingerprinting and are paid employees of the school system, working from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"It's not as intimidating to come to another student," Wilson said.

Tutors can hone in on the particular teaching style that is most effective for each student, said Jim Bryan, a Jonesboro High gifted science teacher who oversees the program.

"A lot of students are lost in a class of 32, 34," Bryan said. "Teachers just shoot down the middle."

While teachers "shoot down the middle" and use a particular method to deliver instruction, students can interpret and spit the information back in different forms for other students to absorb.

"We've found easier ways to do it," Witherington said. "It helps a lot of students if we show them the easy way to do it."

For instance, some teach five rules for determining significant figures, but students can teach the same concept using only two rules, Wilson said.

Often students want help, but don't know what the problem is, Bryan said. Problems are compounded by lack of motivation and disorganization.

McMillan said she's experienced many "light bulb" moments when students suddenly grasped a concept with her guidance and tutoring.

In addition to the pay, the tutors can use the experience to bolster their college applications, the students said.

It pays for the students who come to the tutors as well, Witherington said. Students come back with higher grades than before visiting the tutors.

Jonesboro High had a tutoring program last school year, but that program was "ineffective" and "no one came," Bryan said. Students are coming this year and part of that could be attributed to the school's designation as a school of choice. Students at schools with repeat problems making adequate yearly progress could opt to attend Jonesboro High this school year.