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Peer mentoring a better option than teacher’s aide

“Peer mentor was reviewed differently -- almost as a volunteer service."

Junior+Sebastien+Manda+tutors+junior+Jyoti+Tamang+in+math.
Junior Sebastien Manda tutors junior Jyoti Tamang in math.

Junior Sebastien Manda tutors junior Jyoti Tamang in math.

Skye Vialpando

Skye Vialpando

Junior Sebastien Manda tutors junior Jyoti Tamang in math.

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More students should consider peer mentoring over open periods and teacher aide positions.

Peer mentoring has been an ongoing project for more than five years, as of now orchestrated by AP Literature and AVID teacher Pam Atkins and AP Human Geography and AVID teacher Amy Everson. Peer mentoring gives students a chance to work with others, and being a teacher’s aide (TA) often isn’t as fulfilling. Atkins has previously worked with David Downs, who now works as a math teacher at West Junior High, and said that they were, “…trying to build off of the Lion’s Den program, where we provide a tutor.”

The program is a hope to supplement the teacher’s aide elective, which does less good than it seems to be doing. Being a TA, students may be more of a burden to the classroom than a benefit. District committees view being a teacher’s aide as a “waste of time.” When considering scholarship profiles, the committees were said to have thought that TA and open periods as “not a real thing to do,” said Atkins. There are some teachers who, by no fault, give credence to these comments by allowing their aides to work on homework or even play on their phones.

“Peer mentor was reviewed differently — almost as a volunteer service. This is something where you are taking on a responsibility for a relationship with that class and students within that class,” Atkins said. “Universities really rely on peer-to-peer situations; those are jobs, those are volunteer hours and labs.”

The process of picking students to be peer mentors can be difficult. The way students act in a group situation may be completely different than how they act in a one-on-one situation. And while someone considering being a peer mentor doesn’t have to be at the top of their class, teachers do expect them to be fairly strong.

“It’s a tricky process,” Atkins said. “It’s really tough, because it takes a special person to work within the frame of the class, and work with the teacher.”

“Do you have the personality, the patience, to work with someone who’s struggling?”

Being involved as a peer mentor requires more than just knowing the subject; mentoring requires independence and full time courtesy. There’s a certain interest that comes with it as well, getting the chance to learn about different cultures. It’s an excellent opportunity not only to teach, but be taught yourself. Most people can tutor, but the key is matching your aptitude with a student who needs what you have to offer, Everson said.

Mentoring is a chance to review one’s own skill set and limits; it’s an entirely separate experience from being a TA. Being a TA, the student is mostly running copies, whereas mentors have the ability to help and get further involved with their surroundings.

“The few students we have out there peer tutoring are really excelling,” Atkins said.

As most things do, it takes time to be ready to mentor. Everson has been working on guided activities — something to provide mentors that would help them get comfortable in a classroom. There’s a system in place to allow mentors to understand the classroom. Senior English teacher Donald Drobny, Borah High School’s debate teacher, has been working on an online course and a peer tutor application to help mentors and guide them, especially when it comes to BRIDGE classes.

Everson has some of her AVID students, junior Alec Dorcheus and junior Kaetlin McClellan, peer tutor through a selective process. They both agree that it is rewarding to mentor other students. There is no one subject or skill for which they tutor. “I’ve done anything from helping students with basic math like one plus two, to helping (a student) write a six-minute speech paper and working through grammatical errors,” McClellan said.

“It’s rewarding to actually be not just a mentor, but also become their friend,” said Dorcheus. “Going off topic is my favorite part. Talking about things. Having fun with it — going back to the one-on-one tutor; I like to mess with him and try to make him laugh. I find that enjoyable.”

McClellan said that while helping them study, she’s had the chance to ask questions like how many siblings they have — some kids have had up to 20 siblings! “Helping them with their homework, yeah, that’s fun and that’s a good mental exercise for you. More than anything, I enjoy making a connection with those students…”

“You leave feeling awesome,” Everson said. It’s satisfying to not only refresh one’s memory, but to accomplish helping a struggling student is it’s own reward.

Yes, many teachers benefit from the help of teacher’s aides, and many seniors like taking open periods, but a peer mentor assignment looks better on one’s resume, helps peer mentors learn more themselves, and is a chance to meet Borah students that you might not normally get to know.  

We think more students should consider applying to be a peer mentor. It will help teachers, students, and the community in general. See your counselor for a peer mentor application–now!

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Peer mentoring a better option than teacher’s aide