Sharing their strengths


When Reservoir High opened in September, the school seemed to have everything: new books, desks and supplies, and the latest technology. But something was lacking.

To lessen the burden of redistricting on area juniors and seniors, the Fulton school's population was limited to ninth and 10th grades this school year. A new class will be added each successive year, with the first seniors graduating in 2005.

Although the halls are less crowded, the absence of upperclassmen means that some popular programs are not available at Reservoir. One of these is the National Honor Society, an academic and service organization for 11th- and 12th-graders. NHS traditionally provides peer tutors for students.

Annette Jackson, NHS adviser at River Hill High School, thought her students might be able to help. Members of her school's NHS program have been tutoring underclassmen at Reservoir since September.

"It got started because a Reservoir parent said that she really was sad that the Reservoir students couldn't come over here and take advantage of our [tutoring] program," Jackson said.

Jan Bornstein, guidance counselor at Reservoir, agreed to coordinate the program with members of River Hill's NHS.

Seniors Natalie Shaffer and Ryan Gauthier "thought that would be a fun idea so we took the initiative, talked to Ms. Bornstein and organized the program," Shaffer said. By the end of September, interschool tutoring had begun.

"I think that it just promoted a healthier relationship to say we didn't just forget those kids who left here," Jackson said of students who attended ninth grade at River Hill before being redistricted to Reservoir. "The kids who are now 10th-graders were used to that [tutoring] service."

Juniors and seniors from River Hill visit Reservoir every Tuesday and Thursday after school. Typically, four tutors and six to 10 Reservoir youths are present. Students who want to receive tutoring must register with Bornstein, who sends a list of names and subjects to Shaffer and Gauthier.

Andrew Bryan, a Reservoir 10th-grader, said he was interested in being tutored because some of his friends had kept their grades up for sports participation with help from River Hill tutors.

Shaffer and Gauthier "are working on matching tutors and students. When tutors and students have a relationship that they've started ... they can get them the same tutor that they've worked with previously," Bornstein said.

"They run the show," Jackson said of Shaffer and Gauthier. "They report and keep me informed. ... But it is a student-run initiative. They maintain all of the records, they get the tutors."

"We haven't looked at data yet," Bornstein said, but she plans to check report cards of students who have received tutoring to see whether their grades improved.

But even without statistics, Bornstein said, parents "like the fact that ... students can get help from another student who's strong in the subject area."

Shaffer tutors Spanish, geometry, algebra and earth science.

"I like seeing the kids' faces when they understand something. Making something that seems difficult seem so easy - it just clicks for them," she said.

Peer tutors "understand better," said 16-year-old Andy Ham, a Reservoir 10th-grader who is being tutored in math and Spanish. He said the tutors, who studied the material only a year or two ago, knew shortcuts that were helpful. "It's easier to communicate with them" than with a teacher, he said.

Gauthier agreed. "It just helps to have somebody else who's older. It's easier to learn from a peer. ... They automatically think they [older peers] can help."

Reservoir Principal Adrianne Kaufman said that although her school has a homework club in which teens can work with their teachers, "for some students, they much prefer to be tutored by a peer. This was a nice way to have a tie between River Hill and Reservoir, but it also gives the students some excellent academic role models."

Members of NHS must perform 30 hours of community service, such as tutoring, each year. Many of the tutors who volunteer at Reservoir have completed their hours and continue to work because of their commitment to the program.

"Their willingness is just wonderful," Bornstein said. "It's a really great example of communities working together."

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