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Making the Grade
Written by Kelly Chandler, Staff Writer

Students helping students through peer tutoring program


Reading buddy Elizabeth DiGirolamo reads to kindergarten students David Holt and Duncan Douglas. The fifth grade tutors give up their recess time to help the younger children.

     Ask any one of the 44 kindergarten students at Hereford Elementary what they like about the school’s peer mentoring program and they will give you a myriad of answers. But ask program coordinator Eileen Dutcher and she will tell you one thing – it produces fantastic results.
      “All the students in this room know their alphabet,” Dutcher said, motioning to Hereford’s auditorium full of students earnestly working in pairs. “We think the program is very beneficial. You see the best come out of both the fifth-graders and the kindergarteners.”
      The pilot program, started this year by Dutcher, an instructional support teacher, pairs fifth-graders with full-day kindergarteners and a select number of first-graders. As the head of the school’s homework club, Dutcher said she saw fifth-grade students were very capable of helping the younger students with their homework and sought to put that volunteerism to good use.
      The older students each attended three training sessions prior to beginning the program. Each one is assigned at least one kindergarten student and volunteers for between one and three days per six-day cycle at Hereford. Several fifth-graders also serve as general assistants for each session and fill in for absent students or organize materials and help where needed.  
      They give up their recess time to help their younger counterparts. That, in itself, speaks volumes of the students’ character, administrators said.

 Hereford Elementary School fifth-grader Sylver Reynolds works with kindergartener Zarek Hughes on his math skills during one of the one-hour tutoring sessions.

      “When I was in kindergarten I didn’t know anything,” said Kaitlyn Mundy on working with kindergartner Tyler Miller. “So I wanted to help other kids learn. And it helps them get used to other people [teaching them] other than their teacher.”
      Around the room, students work one-on-one using games like “alpha catch” with a fabric baseball glove and lettered ball to teach capital and lower case letters, counting and colors. Other students read to the kindergarteners or have them spell words. Some work with magnetic drawing boards and others finished math sequencing puzzles.
      Mia Schneider was very proud to show off her latest spelling conquest, “Mississippi.”
      Their progress is charted in a paper menu where the older students can mark down what concepts were learned. They can also review letter, shape and number flashcards.
      Another part of the program is called “reading buddies” where fifth-graders come into the classroom and either listen to the first-graders read or read to students, like those in Miss Jennifer Skipper’s class.
        In a relaxed setting, students Duncan Douglas and David Holt work on pronunciation and comprehension in some of their favorite books, “Curious George” and “Bad Kitty,” with their buddies.    
        The program’s goals are to improve kindergarten-readiness skills like alphabet, number and shape recognition, sight word recognition, decoding phonetic words and counting. Students also work on patterning and sequencing skills. But perhaps just as important are the leadership skills and relationships the students are fostering as they spend time with one another. Many of the fifth-graders serve as something similar to a big brother or big sister to their student.
        “The fifth-graders and kindergarteners are building a bridge between the ages,” said Dutcher. “They [the fifth grade students] are so nurturing and many of them go home and come back with a new strategy to teach the kids the skills. It is something everyone looks forward to and everyone has fun.” 





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