By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Leaders of a new program that pays students to tutor others saw the success they wanted in its first semester and plan to continue it throughout Northeast Mississippi.
Now, they must find the money to do so.
The program pairs high-performing high school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores with third- to sixth-grade students.
The mentors spend two hours per week with the younger students, using different games, activities and technology to aid them.
“I can’t tell you how exceptionally well it went,” said Roger Browning, the special projects coordinator for the Workforce Investment Act division with Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “We had so many positive offsets from this program.”
Three Rivers piloted the Performance Enrichment Program – or PEP – at three schools in Union County last spring, modeling it after a similar program in Memphis.
During the fall semester, it expanded to 13 schools in Chickasaw, Calhoun, Pontotoc and Lee counties. That expansion was made possible by a $50,000 donation from the CREATE Foundation and a $100,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Browning and Three Rivers WIA Division Director Bill Renick both said they want to expand the program, but they must first find a way to perpetually fund it. It will not be used this semester, but both men are hopeful it will resume next fall.
“We are looking to find funding so we are not living from day to day,” Browning said.
Renick said that the only costs involve paying the mentors $900 each for the 12-week semester and paying lead tutors $1,000 per month.
The lead tutors are adults who coordinate the program at each site. There are no administrative fees, supply costs or overhead, he said.
“We’ve got it down to about $12,000 per campus per semester for what we are providing,” Renick said. “That is not an astronomical amount of money.”
Browning and Renick said they would like to sustain the program for at least three years so they can fully measure its impact.
They will expand it to as many schools as money allows and said they plan to have more talks with the Kellogg Foundation.
Preliminary data was encouraging, Browning said. All of the students were given pre- and post-tests using testing software previously available at each school.
Each of them showed growth during the semester, Browning said, with some making a full year of gains and others growing by smaller amounts.
The program is working to develop a consistent test that can be given to all of the students and provide more reliable data, Browning said.
The program focuses its energies on students that are in the middle or near the upper-range on testing curves and tries to make them stronger.
“We want these good students to become outstanding students,” Browning said.
Teachers provide mentors with a specific list of the skills where each student needs extra help.
“What we tried to do was allow these young people to use different ways to reach these kids: competitive skill games, SMART boards, different activities,” he said. “These kids develop a lot of ownership with their students.”