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Peer Tutoring Seen as a Success

May 1, 2009

An interesting article on SRHS.  It has really changed… I can’t believe $50 gift cards?!?   The library still has those hard/uncomfortable wooden chairs.  The boy to the left (with his head down), reminds me of myself by 5th or 6th period.

— A 2.0 grade-point average could be seen by some as scandalous for a student at Scripps Ranch High School, an education powerhouse that boasts some of the highest standardized test scores in the city.

But for freshman Simon Nguyen, this GPA is something of a breakthrough – academically and socially.

Like many students who bus into suburban Scripps Ranch from San Diego’s inner-city neighborhoods, Simon struggled almost as soon as school started in September. By his first progress report card, he was clinging to a 1.0 GPA and had fallen into the habit of ditching his toughest classes.

But for the past five months, Simon and about 40 of his classmates have started turning around their grades under the new “Falcon Incentive Program” that has paired them with top-performing upperclassmen for after-school tutorials up to four days a week.

“At first, when they said I had to stay after school and do all this stuff, I was, like, ‘No way,’ ” Simon said. “Now, my goal is to get a 3.0.”

Two to four days a week, Incentive Program students, all of whom were failing at least three core classes, stay after school to go over homework with their older peers. They also meet weekly with the vice principal and counselors, who closely track their attendance and grades, and help the students with everything from study skills to maintaining a weekly assignment planner.

The program, established by new Vice Principal Abram Jimenez, has taken many on campus by surprise – mainly because it has started to reverse a chronic problem at the school – the failure of many poor and minority freshmen students who bus in from other neighborhoods through the San Diego Unified School district’s choice program.

During the past six-week grading period, 40 students in the program have increased the number of A’s on report cards from 19 to 30, and increased B’s from 16 to 37. Meanwhile, the number of F’s on their report cards has fallen from 138 to 129. Half of the 40 students have seen their GPAs jump.

“Think of the classes these kids will not have to repeat,” Jimenez said. “It’s amazing.”

Jimenez credits the program’s success to several key factors: Rewarding students for their progress; securing buy-in from Scripps Ranch High faculty and getting the mothers of students in the program to sign contracts allowing the after-school tutorials.

“If you treat kids like prisoners, they are going to act like prisoners,” he said. “But if you show them the right way with passion and love, they will respond.”

Students are rewarded for their gains with gift cards to Starbucks, Macy’s and movie theaters – thanks to contributions from the Scripps Ranch High School nonprofit foundation. The students get $5 or $10 cards for small feats and $50 cards for winning contests for attendance and academic performance.

The program was established in late November for the 40 freshmen with the most F’s. Those students were rounded up and told the program was mandatory.

Because many of the bused students at Scripps Ranch High stick together, word of the gift cards and tutorials has gotten around. An additional 86 students have asked to join the program. Next year, the school hopes to expand to even more students in ninth and tenth grades.

In sync with Superintendent Terry Grier’s efforts to close the drop-out rate districtwide, Jimenez is trying to keep freshmen from slipping through the cracks. Keeping them on track to graduate would not only change the lives of students, he said, but it could also bust many of the stereotypes that persist about bused-in students.

Just getting some of the star students who are “on their way to top universities” to interact with newcomers, who are “still finding their way,” has helped. But some students declined to tutor, because some of those needing help “are really tough kids,” Jimenez said.

Junior Emily Berg is among 37 students who volunteer to tutor. All told, they have completed more than 400 hours of teaching.

Emily has tried to do more than help students academically. She also wants them to feel more at home on campus.

“At first, they would say they didn’t care about school or going to college. But then they start to get it, they do better and you can see they do care,” Emily said. “We try to get them to connect – this is their school, too. Some have never joined a club or even gone to a dance.”

Freshman Joel Ochoa said he used to sit through classes, such as algebra, just watching the clock and waiting for the bell to ring.

“I would just sit there and everything would go in one ear and out the other,” he said. “Now, I can do the math.”

Simon Nguyen said he used to dread homework so much that he never got around to doing it. Now, he gets it done as quickly as possible, in part, because he knows the subjects better.

Many of the students in the program look to Jimenez for inspiration.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Jimenez grew up in Chula Vista. He went on to the University of California Los Angeles, and then to University of San Diego, becoming the first in his family to go to college.

“Some kids receive bad grades and they just shut down. They feel lost,” he said. “But Scripps Ranch High has the highest API (Academic Performance Index) in the district, so there was not a real urgency to do anything. We want all our kids to meet the school’s high standards.”

http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/apr/30/1cz30help201448-peer-tutoring-seen-success/?uniontrib

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