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West Jordan Journal

Students find success with peer-tutoring program at West Jordan High

Nov 08, 2018 02:03PM ● By Jana Klopsch

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

Because of peer tutors, students of limited abilities and language skills can access any classes they want to take. West Jordan High School has two peer tutoring programs—one for special education students and one for English Language Learners. 

“Tutors make it so the students can access those classes with the support they need and in a way that works for them,” said Heather Tester, special education teacher. “They can have a better quality class experience because they’re just like everybody else in the classroom; they just have a helper with them.” 

Junior Emma Johnson is one of 80 peer tutors that advocates for the 19 special ed students, enabling them to successfully integrate into mainstream classes.

“We help them to get the most experience that they can get out of the situation,” she said.

Robin Frodge, who teaches history, said there are too many students in her classes to be able to address each individual student’s special needs. Without a bilingual tutor to translate concepts and cultural context, she said her ELL students would fall further and further behind.

“The language barrier keeps them from accessing what is being taught,” said Todd Pyne, who coordinates the bilingual peer tutoring program. He matches ELL students with tutors fluent in their language who can translate instruction.

Frodge also relies on peer tutors to intervene with autistic students before a minor irritation becomes a disruption to the whole class. 

Layne Hanson, a senior, said he is familiar with what triggers the student he tutors and can give him the support he needs to stay focused in class.

Tester trusts her peer tutors to individualize accommodations to minimize interruptions for the class.

“They’re the one who’s sitting right there,” she said. “The teachers get an extra set of hand, eyes and ears and really good first-hand feedback on what will work best for the student. Tutors don’t make things easier; they make things doable.” 

The tutoring programs benefit everyone involved. Tester said tutors develop empathy and gratitude as they see how hard her students have to work to accomplish what may come easily to others. 

Pyne said his tutors gain self-esteem as they serve their community. Some bilingual tutors also have the benefit of tutoring for a class that they are also taking for their own credit. 

“They get a double dose of instruction, so it helps them in their core classes as well,” said Pyne. 

Pyne promotes this benefit to recruit bilingual tutors. He currently has 12 tutors but has need for more—about 10 percent of the student body are ELL students. To be a bilingual tutor, students must have fluency in two languages and be familiar with vocabulary specific to the subject they are translating. This often requires extra study. 

This year, for the first time, students from middle school Spanish immersion programs are sophomores at WJHS. These students already have academic language in both languages which makes them ideal peer tutors.

Other bilingual tutors are former ELL students. Having been on the receiving end of tutoring, they uniquely understand how to be an advocate for the student, said Pyne. Students respond better to a peer who offers to help them talk to the teacher, he said. 

Tester agrees. Her students prefer a peer advocate rather than an adult who follows them to their classes.

Students receive a letter grade for the classes they tutor. Many sign up to be a tutor to pad their college applications  or to earn service hours. Edith Aguago, a senior who tutors for both programs, said she signed up because her sister had been a peer tutor.

“At first, I was nervous because I’ve never worked with anybody who had disabilities,” Aguago said. “But I got used to it, and I really enjoyed it, so I just decided to take it for my junior and senior years.” She now peer tutors for three periods.

Tester finds once peer tutors discover how rewarding the experience is, they add additional tutoring periods and keep coming back each year—even after they graduate. Many students studying special education have come back to do their practicum in her class. Currently, three of her part-time aides are former students and tutors.