On a Thursday afternoon well after the final bell has rung at Leesville Road Middle School, Maebelle Mathew quizzes Shalyn Nguyen on figurative language.
Maebelle, a sophomore at next-door Leesville Road High School, gives examples of terms such as hyperbole and personification for Shalyn to identify, and the seventh-grader responds quickly when she knows the answer. When she’s not as sure, Maebelle explains the example as Shalyn nods attentively.
The pair is part of a new tutoring program under way at the Leesville Road cluster of schools, which sit in a row within easy walking distance of one another. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, a couple dozen high-schoolers make their way to the middle school and then the elementary school to tutor younger students.
Maebelle and Shalyn work together often, and their session is marked by the occasional giggle and plenty of smiles.
“Go through it again?” asks Maebelle once they have reviewed the words twice already.
“Yes, just to make sure,” says Shalyn. By the end of round three, she can identify most of the examples, and Maebelle gives her a short list of words to focus on before the test.
Shalyn said the program helps her academically and that she likes meeting the tutors, especially Maebelle. “It’s really fun because she’s enthusiastic,” Shalyn said.
At the middle school, teachers identify students who need extra help, especially in math and language arts, and they can sign up for tutoring. Since the program began in January, nearly 30 middle-schoolers have joined.
Angella Mallard, who teaches sixth grade and coordinates the program in the middle school, said making sure students are proficient in math and language arts is critical, because students must show adequate progress in those subjects to move on to the next grade.
Mallard said she and other teachers already see the students’ academic performances improving.
At the elementary school, students who participate in an after-school program are eligible to join a homework club. For those in the club, their parents can sign them up to work with the tutors.
The tutoring program got its start when Wendy Smith, the mother of two Leesville high school students, wanted to expand the service opportunities available to her sons and other students. Smith, a teacher and long-time tutor herself, thought a tutoring program would be a perfect fit for Leesville.
“It really brings the three schools together in a way I don’t think other things have,” she said.
Ninety-five high school students have signed up to be tutors. They commit to tutoring on either Tuesday or Thursday for at least one month, but many have elected to come both days or already have signed up for the entire year, Smith said.
The tutors sign up for the days they will attend through an online program that Smith said has streamlined what could be a chaotic process. If a tutor is sick or has a conflict, he or she can cancel online, and another student can fill in. The elementary and middle school program coordinators then use the electronic list to match tutors and students.
Eddie Flint, a Leesville junior and regular tutor, said the program works well in part because the students have the chance to ask many questions, and the tutors can figure out the best way to help. “The tutor can fit their explanation to the kid,” he said.
Eddie often is paired with seventh-grader Luke Mcelveen, who said he likes that the tutors can take their time with each student.
“It’s a really good way to get help,” he said.