The Triumphs and Challenges of the BHSEC Mentoring Program

Eliza Fawcett, ’15

You might see them working in empty classrooms or at library tables. They meet in the morning, afternoon, or during free periods to discuss coordinate geometry, topic sentences, and verb conjugations. Whatever the subject matter, and wherever they meet, you’ll always see the same thing: pairs of Y1s and freshmen tackling coursework together.

For the past seven years, the BHSEC guidance department has implemented various versions of a peer mentoring program in which upperclassmen assist lowerclassmen with their academic courseload. In some years, this took the form of a credit-bearing class in which mentors learned tutoring techniques and met with their mentees three or four times a week. This year, however, Ms. Gesoff wanted the program to be a bit more “free-flow.” She asked for Y1 volunteers, paired the Y1s with ninth graders who desired help in certain subject areas, and made the initial introductions. After that, she says, “it was pretty much up to the mentor and the mentee to follow through and make it happen and let me know if there were any issues.”

Some mentors help their mentees tackle their math or physics homework and study for tests; others work with their mentees to improve English and History essays. All the program needs is Y1s who feel comfortable tutoring in a certain subject area, and ninth graders who need help in that same subject area. For example, Ayla Safran, a Y1 who is part of the program, explains that she meets her partner for 25 – 50 minutes each week, helping her understand new math concepts, study for quizzes and exams, and with her math homework. And there have been positive results: Ms. Gesoff says that “the ninth graders that I hear from seem to be really enjoying it” and that the recent set of narratives demonstrated improvement.

Many Y1 tutors report that they regularly text with their freshmen partners to coordinate meeting times, make sure assignments are turned in, or just check in. “I think that’s a really important aspect [to] working with someone,” said Y1 Emma Evans, “Because I know that it’s not just the work, but the whole process of doing the assignment and making sure it gets in and making sure it’s your best work.”

The main objective of the mentoring program is, of course, to have upperclassmen help underclassmen with academic challenges. But in some cases, the tutor-tutee relationship develops into something far greater than that. “My tutee has been distraught about Bard – the amount of work, the lack of sleep – and so we’ve been working on how to schedule time, how to not procrastinate,” said one Y1. Above all, Ms. Gesoff hopes that through the program, “an underclassman [will know] that there is a student in the school who is there for them, who has been through what they have been through.”

Even when a tutor and tutee might not have much in common, the relationship can be mutually beneficial. One Y1 commented that she enjoyed getting to know her partner and seeing “how a different mind works.” Other Y1s acknowledged that they have enjoyed learning how to identify and address tutees’ areas of weakness – and reviewing concepts themselves during their weekly sessions.

Like any continually evolving program, the BHSEC mentoring system is has its flaws. The biggest problem that mentor-mentee pairs face is scheduling issues. Sometimes it’s a matter of conflicting commitments, other times half of the pair simply doesn’t show up.

 

“The only frustrating thing is that sometimes it’s hard to coordinate with your buddy, because the schedules don’t always work out, and sometimes ninth graders are a little flaky, and we’re a little flaky,” confessed one Y1. In fact, Ms. Gesoff acknowledged that having students not show up to their tutoring sessions has “historically been one of the biggest issues with the tutoring program.” As one vexed Y1 said, “My tutee doesn’t really come which is unfortunate even though I email and try to reach out, but it’s just not working very well.” In such a case, Ms. Gesoff urges that the tutor come talk to her.

Part of the problem, one Y1 said, is lack of accountability: “it would be very productive to have an accountability [system] for both parties, like a sign in sheet.” One year, Ms. Gesoff said, all the mentors and mentees met at the same time, signed in, and worked for a period. But such a structured system is certainly more complicated to organize, and might deter students who can’t make a specific time commitment.

Another Y1 mentioned that a bit more direction and structure from the beginning would be beneficial. The student mentioned that he felt a little unclear about how exactly mentors should be helping mentees: what kinds of techniques should be used, and what specific goals mentor-mentee teams should try to achieve. “I don’t often know if I’m being helpful, but we talk a lot and it feels good,” the student said.

Many Y1 mentors have raised important issues that should be considered as the BHSEC mentoring program is tweaked in future years. The current program has had its fair share of accomplishments – and sometimes those accomplishments transcend homework grades or test results. “I think sharing a personal experience and letting the underclassman know that [tutoring] is part of the culture here, that teachers want to help, takes the stigma away,” Ms. Gesoff said. “It helps the underclassmen feel more connected to the community.”

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