Success is Mandatory: The Peer Tutoring Program that Saved Camelback High School

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Today, we bring you the story of a school that has successfully employed peer tutoring strategies in transforming from a failing school into a promising and inspiring educational institution worthy of emulation.

A Brief History

Camelback High School is a public school in Phoenix, Arizona that was founded in 1954. By 1985, it is said that the school began taking a turn for the worse and this decline continued through 2009. It is believed that Camelback’s downturn was prompted by a decline in community engagement and support when the school’s racial demographic transitioned from a predominantly White student body to predominantly Hispanic. Among the many problems faced by the school were weak leadership, unstable school administration due to a rapid turnover of principals, a gang infested campus, high dropout rates, low graduation rates and high academic failure. Camelback was an archetypal failing school.

The fate of Camelback changed in 2009 with the arrival of a new principal by the name of Chad Gestson who refused to give up on his students. Dr. Gestson, backed by the unwavering support of school district superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner, along with local community members like the Social Venture Partners of Arizona, contributed their time, resources and talents toward the reformation of Camelback High. Among the strategies that were implemented to bring about a change in the school, peer tutoring proved to make the biggest impact in improving academic outcomes and school culture. Students took ownership of their own success and tutors became the primary drivers in the success of their school. A case study has been developed and documents the progress that Camelback High has experienced since the arrival of its new principal in 2009.

An overview of Success is Mandatory, the Peer Tutoring Program at Camelback High School

CBHS Principal Dr. Chad GestsonAdapted from the program at Peer Power Foundation in Memphis TN, the peer tutoring program at Camelback High fits into the category of a lab model and is designed to remediate students who are struggling academically. The one-on-one tutoring sessions are coordinated by one or more teachers as well as lead tutors. The tutoring lab which in Camelback’s case is the school library, is operated both within and outside of regular school hours. Tutoring is offered daily from 7:00am – 7:50am before school starts, and after school from 3:00pm -5:30pm. Tutoring is also available during lunch and advisory periods, and on Saturday mornings from 8:00am – 12pm. In total, the library is open for tutoring assistance for at least 40 hours a week outside of the typical class periods.

There are 100 tutors currently in the Success is Mandatory peer tutoring program, and 12 of these tutors are paid. About 10 tutors are available (2 paid lead tutors and 5-10 other tutors) during each after-school tutoring session. In a typical tutoring session, a student works alone on his / her homework while tutors circulate the room, ready to assist anyone in need of help. Most of the tutors are qualified to assist in all subject areas. All tutors undergo an application process that includes providing two teacher references. Each year, lead tutors are carefully selected from a pool of effective, regular tutors from the previous year.

Tutors mainly receive on-the-job training and are closely monitored. Faculty advisors walk around and assist new tutors by offering tutoring strategies and techniques. The tutors also undergo sit-down training through AVID Tutorology.

There are plans to create teams of tutors and tutees in which tutors will track the attendance, tardies and grades of the students assigned to them.

Earning community service hours, having an opportunity to receive community college credits and the strengthening of knowledge and skills in subjects tutored are among the several benefits Camelback tutors receive from helping their peers succeed. Lead and assistant lead tutors also receive scholarships in the form of cash for their services.

"We believe that if you first focus on building amazing kids that test scores and other measures of academic success will naturally follow. And they have."
- Dr. Chad Gestson, Principal, Camelback High School

The story of Camelback High School is a profound reminder of the transformative power of collaboration and the importance of community involvement in supporting our children’s educational success.

Special thanks to Dr. Gestson for answering our questions and giving us a better understanding of what Success is Mandatory is all about. Visit Success is Mandatory - the case study website for CBHS - for more information about Camelback’s peer tutoring program and case study report.

UPDATE: In April 2015, the Peer Tutoring Resource Center released a video featuring Dr. Gestson. In the video, Gestson talks about the program and gives valuable tips and insights for implementing a successful peer tutoring program.

Visit the peer tutoring videos page for more peer tutoring related videos.


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