Peer tutors lend a hand to classmates | ParkRecord.com
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Peer tutors lend a hand to classmates

Lynda Wright’s nutrition and foods class was borderline chaos on Wednesday morning. It was the first day they were actually baking anything, and some of the students found the microwave apple crisp recipe more daunting than others. Some students easily stayed on task and produced a savory apple crisp, while others had a slightly different focus. For students who are part of Dana Reilly’s peer tutoring program, participation in the hour and 38 minute class is more important than producing award-winning baked goods.

Reilly, a special education teacher at Park City High School (PCHS), said that she views her role as a case manager for the special needs students. She arranges partnerships between special needs students and students enrolled in her peer tutoring class. This arrangement allows special needs students to get away from the special education area and participate in non-special education classes with the general student body, Reilly explained.

Special needs students attend regular, core curriculum classes and elective classes with their peer tutors. Some peer tutoring groups also work one-on-one in the special education classroom, depending on the subject and the academic needs of the student.

Peer tutoring is now active at PCHS, Treasure Mountain International School (TMIS) and in the seventh grade at Ecker Hill International Middle School (EHIMS), Reilly explained.

Peer tutors are paired with students who have special needs based on a variety of criteria, explained Reilly. Seniors who have demonstrated maturity and leadership qualities are matched with the most challenging students, Reilly said. Also, once students have proven that they are trustworthy and competent peer tutors, they are allowed to take classes together outside of the special education department. Reilly explained that art, physical education, and cooking classes such as Mrs. Wright’s foods and nutrition class are ideal for peer tutors because it places them in real-life situations.

Wright explained that her foods and nutrition class was a great place for students with learning challenges to learn life skills and meet students from different social groups. Reilly explained that peer tutoring that take special needs students into a variety of classes is an opportunity for students to learn how to interact with their environment and feel comfortable in a routine. Reilly said that a loud classroom full of students can be a very stimulating environment, and it’s good to challenge students to learn how to interact within that setting.

Reilly said that the peer tutors at the high school represent a diverse cross section of the student body, and many will continue peer tutoring year after year. Eleventh-grade peer tutor Edgar Tinoco said that he was a peer tutor last year, too, and he took the class again because it was fun.

Reilly explained that she gets students that are very academically inclined, athletes, English Language Learning (ELL) students, and students with their own learning challenges. Reilly explained that students who have struggled themselves feel empowered because they are able to help somebody else.

Reilly said that she thinks peer tutoring encourages attendance because the tutors feel like someone is counting on them to be at school every day. Reilly also said that peer tutoring has a growing relationship with the ELL department. She sees peer tutoring as a more sheltered environment where students with limited English can ease into using the language.

Reilly said that she’s had an increasing number of peer tutors using the experience to prove to colleges that they are more than just book students. Reilly said that she writes a lot of recommendation letters for her students, and she’s honored to do so.

According to Reilly, the Park City School District (PCSD) has a relatively large system in place to get special needs students interacting with the general student population, compared to most schools. Reilly said that the more time students spend with special needs students, the more comfortable and accepting they become.

Reilly explained that throughout the high school, they’re creating a network of natural support for the special needs students. Students who have peer tutored develop a relationship with the student they’re partnered with as well as the other special needs students in the class. In the future or outside the peer tutoring class, the students have built a friendship and are more comfortable stepping up to help. For example, if a peer tutor doesn’t come to school one day, often there are other students in the class who are able to help.


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