For an hour each day after school, the Olympia High School library is transformed into a quiet, relaxed environment in which students of all grade levels can come in and receive free help with homework and studying or simply enjoy a peaceful place to get some work done. This is the OHS peer tutoring program.Hometown logo

“We saw the need for students to have a workplace and assistance, so we formed the program in 2008,” explains Deborah Hardbord-Ayers, an AVID trainer at Olympia High School and the coordinator of peer tutoring. “Not very many students were staying after school to work with teachers one-on-one. And the program is still just as vital now as when we began it.”

olympia high school peer tutoring
Junior peer tutor Mitchell Nee (right) and sophomore Ethan Hermann (left) share a laugh in the library as they review math.

The service is staffed every day with three peer tutors. These are fellow students at OHS who hold GPAs of 3.8 or higher and excel in multiple subjects. And because peer tutoring is funded by an Olympia School District grant, as well as a private community benefactor, it’s also free of charge for all students – a winning combination and one that encourages students invested in their studies to come in and receive help.

“Students tend to learn best from each other,” says Harbord-Ayers. The peer-led aspect of OHS’s program creates collaborative relationships between students and keeps learning low-pressure. Raven Lirio, a senior tutor, believes that “as opposed to private tutoring, it feels much more intimate and less intimidating when you’re working with a peer.” After all, peer tutors have the benefit of having taken the same classes as the students they are helping as recently as a year ago. This familiarity allows them to give more personalized help and tips to the students.

The service itself works like this: when students enter the library, they can sign in on an orange clipboard with their name and the subject that they need help with (or note that they’re just looking to work independently). Tutors check the clipboard to see who needs help with what and offer assistance accordingly.

Olympia high school peer tutoring
Senior peer tutor Kathy Huynh and sophomore Om Tada work through some math homework.

Peer tutoring is not one-on-one, as usually there are many more students than tutors present in the library. A tutor may offer individual help with a homework assignment or work with a group of students toward understanding a difficult concept. Often, a group of students will come in and are working on the same assignment, so tutors are able to efficiently aid everybody at once.

This unique environment leads to personal learning breakthroughs for many students. From a tutor’s perspective, this is very rewarding. One of the most satisfying parts of the job, according to Lirio, is “when students are finally able to get the material they’ve been stuck on; when they’re able to understand the subject material better and are motivated to work harder.”

From a student’s perspective, these kinds of breakthroughs can be crucial to academic success. “It can be hard to understand sometimes when a teacher explains,” says Om Tada, a sophomore who has attended peer tutoring every day after school in his time at OHS. “The tutors have more time to work with you individually, so they can give you examples. I always do really good on my tests after coming to tutoring.”

Olympia high school peer tutoring
The peer tutoring team for the 2015-2016 school year. Photo credit: Kim Doherty.

Rachel Hodes, an OHS senior who has come in for math help, echoes Tada’s feelings. “Real talk – peer tutors saved my life,” she says of the calculus assistance she received last week.

For the tutors themselves, the program also provides valuable work experience. “For a lot of kids, this is the first job they’ve had and it’s rewarding to see them rise to the opportunity,” says Harbord-Ayers. “In the application process, I look for students that have teacher recommendations, are strong in at least two subjects and have a willingness and eagerness to work with others. I love seeing the tutors grow over the course of the year, not only as students but as professionals and leaders.”

Harbord-Ayers says her favorite thing about her tutors is “their energy, and the fact that we get to know each other so well over the course of the year.” The atmosphere in the library after school is one of true community, where students can joke with each other and help each other to succeed. “We have a lot of varied backgrounds, abilities and personalities. And, we’re a team.”

olympia high school peer tutoring
Mariah Larson, sophomore, goes over her notes with the help of tutor Spencer Johnson.

Students, teachers, and tutors all relish the community created by the program’s inclusive atmosphere. Says Lirio, “It provides a friendly relationship [between the tutor and student] and sometimes people I’ve helped wave to me in the hallways. Peer tutoring is a great place for students to get together and help each other learn while having fun at the same time.”

Peer tutoring is open to all students and available in the OHS library from 2:25-3:25 p.m., Monday-Thursday. Visit the peer tutoring website for more details.

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