Peer tutoring program gets a look at summit

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A Memphis program that pays students to tutor other students received much attention Friday at the fourth annual Dropout Prevention Summit.
School leaders from throughout Northeast Mississippi’s 16 counties gathered at the summit to discuss practices and programs that have worked in lowering the number of students who leave before receiving a high school degree.
One of those programs was PeerPower, which uses high-performing high school and college students to help their peers.
Student tutors, who must undergo extensive training, essentially become disciples for the school’s best teachers, spreading what they’ve taught to multiple classmates.
“It allows you to leverage your most valuable assets,” said Charles McVean, founder of PeerPower. “Give good teachers disciples to help them teach.”
Several learning teams of 10-12 scholars and four-six student tutors work together. Faculty sponsors oversee the sessions.
The teams become surrogate families for students who feel alienated, and the struggling students get more one-on-one help.
The program is also beneficial for the tutors. It gives them a job that doesn’t interfere with their schoolwork.
At one school in Shelby, 37 percent of sixth-graders scored proficient or better on the Mississippi Curriculum Test in the year before the school implemented the PeerPower Program. One year later, 91 percent of seventh-graders made that mark.
“I’ve always believed that peer tutors were a great asset in schools, and Mr. McVean proved that,” Tishomingo County Superintendent Malcolm Kuykendall said after the summit. “If we could someway find a way to pay these kids to become tutors rather than flip burgers, it would really make an impact.”
Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott also said he was really impressed with McVean’s presentation.
“We do things to address dropouts but if this is working so well in Memphis City Schools, it could work for us.”
Friday’s program also included presentations by New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett and Oxford Superintendent Kim Stasny about practices that were working in their districts.
Cathy Grace and James Hutto each spoke about the importance of early childhood education. Grace is serving as director of Early Childhood Development Policy with the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.
Hutto recently retired as superintendent of the Petal School District.
“We think the Dropout Prevention Summit provides an opportunity for all 31 school districts in our area to exchange ideas and share best practices,” said Lewis Whitfield, senior vice president of CREATE.
“In the first three years, we explained the problem and also gave some examples of best practices. This year we also wanted to bring in unique projects or programs like PeerPower and to emphasize areas like early childhood education that really make a difference not only in preventing dropouts, but also in raising test scores.”
Garrett and Stasny both spoke about the importance of community and re-engaging students in activities that get them hooked in school. Grace told school districts that it is important for them to have a connection with the early childhood education facilities in their area, and Hutto told about a program in his area that seeks to educate young parents.
“The most important thing I heard,” said Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Randy Shaver, “is that there are no magic bullets and that the most important thing is relationships.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.