Welcome to the latest installment of our blog series, where we bring you inspiring stories from thriving peer tutoring programs. In this edition, we turn our attention to the Near Peer tutoring program at Santa Fe Public Schools (SFPS), New Mexico. Join us in exploring this unique initiative, guided by program coordinator and volunteer coordinator at the SFPS Equity, Diversity and Engagement department, Sabra Romero, who graciously shared her valuable insights with us. Through this article, we aim to highlight the innovative strategies, and transformative impact that define Near Peer's tutoring program.
Launched in the spring of 2022, spanning across six school sites and catering to students from kindergarten through eleventh grade, Near Peer offers tutoring services at two k-8 school sites, two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Conveniently scheduled after or before school hours, the tutoring sessions take place in the classrooms of the supervising teachers, ensuring a conducive learning environment for all participants.
The purpose of the program is to foster a connection between tutoring and a career in education, benefiting both students and the public school system. Through mentorships and tutoring, the program aims to cultivate youth interest in teaching. The peer tutors establish meaningful relationships with their students, serving as relatable role models who share similar ages and experiences. In Romero's words, "This program invests in our youth by demonstrating civic responsibility, developing soft skills (communication, confidence and collaboration) and identifying aspirational goals while expanding employment capacity".
Students are served by this comprehensive program, with a primary focus on tutoring English Language Arts and Math. Incorporating social-emotional learning into all lessons is a key aspect, alongside the involvement of strong community partners. Notable partners include Big Brothers Big Sisters, who contribute fun community-oriented activities and provide valuable mentorships through their high school Big Program. Additionally, Cooking with Kids offers cooking lessons that promote math and literacy skills, showcasing the practical application of academics in daily tasks. The program also incorporates BookNook, which aids in reading and comprehension.
Near Peer Tutoring Program at Nina Otero Community Schools. Circle painting activity with Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region.
The tutees in this program are selected based on specific criteria determined by each school site. Gonzales Community School, Cesar Chavez Elementary, and Amy Biehl Community School have opened tutoring to students who require additional support within specific grade levels. Specifically, Gonzales focuses on 7th grade tutees, Amy Biehl serves 2nd grade students, and Cesar Chavez Elementary supports 3rd and 4th grade students. At Nina Otero Community School, tutoring is available to all students who feel they could benefit from extra help, spanning from kindergarten through 8th grade. Milagro Middle School, in collaboration with its community school, extends the opportunity to 7th and 8th grade students. Furthermore, senior tutors from Capital High School engage with 11th grade students enrolled in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program.
Tutors for this program are recruited from all five SFPS high schools. They undergo an application and interview process, which includes submitting a letter of recommendation and an essay explaining their interest in participating. Criteria such as behavior, attendance, and grade point averages are carefully reviewed. Additionally, tutors are required to complete an official orientation conducted by the human resources department to ensure their preparedness. The opportunity to establish this program was presented by the State of New Mexico Public Education Department through the RFA (Request for Approval) process. As part of the requirements, tutors receive compensation for their participation. The proposal included a living wage pay rate of $14.03 per hour.
High school tutors undergo a comprehensive week of virtual training before they are assigned to classrooms. Additionally, they are required to attend two hours of mandatory weekly virtual training sessions. These sessions not only provide valuable lesson planning time but also cover a wide range of topics. Tutors receive guidance on classroom management, behavior techniques, social-emotional teaching and learning, catering to diverse learning styles, integrating literacy in math, fostering a growth mindset, tutoring reading, participating in anti-bias training, tutoring math, and many other essential topics.
Each cohort of tutors at the program has developed its own unique culture that caters to the specific needs and expectations of the students they support. Typically, the tutoring sessions commence with a social-emotional check-in activity, followed by a review of the session's agenda. Academic assistance is then provided, with some tutors aiding students with their homework while others follow structured lesson plans and activities. Although the program's assessment of tutees' academic progress is limited, the tutors have been trained in different techniques such as posing analytical questions and ensuring comprehension by having tutees repeat content back to them. Additionally, the BookNook program allows for virtual assessment of tutees' progress in their reading curriculum and related activities. By collecting this data, the program aims to track the individual growth of each student throughout the semester.
Each cohort within the program is supported by a supervising teacher or coordinator who plays a crucial role. The supervising teachers have two primary responsibilities: recruiting tutees from their respective school sites and ensuring the safety of both tutors and tutees. Additionally, they serve as mentors and provide valuable support to the tutors. Whenever necessary, the supervising teachers step in to assist with classroom management techniques and offer guidance on activities and curriculum. Given their direct involvement in the classrooms and grade levels, many of these teachers recruit tutees from their own classes and effectively communicate with the tutors about the specific areas where each student requires the most support.
SFPS Coordinator working with tutors and tutees at Milagro Middle School. Playing math games with cards to improve skills in fundamental math.
The program provides the first work experience for most tutors and tutor facilitators. Initially, there were no established workplace standards, professional etiquette, or classroom management practices. As the program progressed, sessions were added to address topics such as dress code, professional language, deadlines, self-efficacy, punctuality, and general workplace expectations for student tutors. Restorative justice training and development techniques were also introduced to handle conflicts. Creating a supportive and holistic environment was a key focus, requiring more staff involvement than expected. To enhance the learning experience, one-on-one check-ins with district staff and cohort check-ins with tutor facilitators were implemented, along with increased time for lesson planning during training sessions. Tools were provided to tutors and facilitators to establish classroom norms and expectations for successful tutoring.
Highlighting a noticeable need for improved teaching materials and resources, Romero also expressed concerns regarding focused and targeted tutoring, prompting efforts to align tutor activities with curriculum and common core standards. This strategic alignment has provided tutors with a robust foundation for effective lesson planning and classroom management.
In addressing the challenge of engaging community stakeholders and gaining program support, Romero underscores the importance of increased publicity. This would not only showcase the program's achievements but also ensure its sustained viability beyond funding and aid in tutor recruitment. She acknowledges the hurdle posed by conflicting after-school hours with extracurricular activities and employment in recruiting student tutors, tutor facilitators, and supervising teachers. Romero emphasizes the need for enhanced interpersonal communication as a means to attract a higher number of tutors and students, particularly from Early College Opportunities, Desert Sage Academy, and Mandela International Magnet School. Despite previous efforts to boost recruitment through larger marketing campaigns in both fall and spring, the challenge persists. Looking ahead, Romero envisions program integration into the Work-Based Learning Program as a strategic move to fortify the tutor and staff base.
Amidst these challenges, the program's positive growth has been fueled by its embrace of innovative expansion avenues. Noteworthy instances involve forging partnerships with the Santa Fe Lacrosse Team to enhance student support and recruiting tutors for freshman AVID students.
Peer tutor and tutee during a peer tutoring session at Milagro Middle School
In the program's inaugural semester, a partnership was established with Future Focused Education to conduct a survey, collect data, and perform an analysis for the program. The analysis yielded valuable insights in spite of not encompassing student achievement in its process or data collection. Currently, the program requires supervising tutor facilitators and staff to complete evaluations, which helps assess the tutors' performance. Additionally, an end-of-year survey is being developed to gather feedback from tutors, teachers, parents, and tutees. One of the key factors contributing to the program's success is the presence of a strong and organized leader who collaborates closely with the tutors, establishing a personal connection. This leader serves as a role model, exemplifying a healthy teacher-student relationship, and as a result, the tutors respond positively to guidance and expected outcomes.
"Santa Fe Public Schools will be developing the Near Peer Tutoring Program in a variety of different ways," states Romero. Plans include an expansion of funding, along with an integration of the program into the Work-Based Learning Program, which commenced last fall. This incorporation is expected to provide the funding to continue to pay students for their work. Additionally, there are forthcoming collaborative efforts with the Curriculum and Instruction Department, aimed at offering comprehensive training opportunities. These sessions will be tailored to enhance teaching skills and even provide students the chance to accrue credits towards their diplomas.
Our sincere appreciation goes to Sabra Romero for generously sharing insights about Near Peer and contributing program materials to the peer tutoring resource library.