East students serve as mentors in partnership with Barrows, Rhodes

The Cranston Herald ·

A new collaboration between Cranston East students and their younger peers at both Chester Barrows and Edward S. Rhodes Elementary Schools has taken off with even better than expected results. East’s Colleen Hart, along with her colleagues Sherry Gemma at Barrows and Gina Armstrong at Rhodes, were all present at Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse’s opening day speech on the teachers’ first day of school earlier this year. One thing in particular stood out to the three friends and colleagues, and it inspired them to start something completely new and different: an after-school peer mentoring/peer tutoring program for their students, which would encompass three different schools, one high school and two elementary schools.

“The Superintendent was talking about growing our schools and how much she loves collaboration between schools,” said Gemma. “The three of us were friends and we heard what she said and we decided to put a program together.”

The three received the support of their administrators and other colleagues and began meeting outside of the school day to talk through the particulars as to how the program would work. It was decided that Hart would offer the volunteer hours first to her senior students and then to her underclassmen in her various math classes, both past and present, and Armstrong (an OT supervisor at Rhodes) and Gemma (a fifth-grade teacher at Barrows) would involve their schools’ fifth-graders, who are the oldest students at the elementary level.

The goal would be to create a partnership that fostered a mentoring relationship between the high school students and their younger counterparts while also helping to reinforce math skills that have been taught to the elementary students. The program would meet once per week for four weeks, for one hour after school.

Constructive role-modeling

“The main goals for the elementary students are to receive support, guidance, advice, reinforcement, friendship and constructive role-modeling while working towards improving their math skills,” said Gemma. “The main goals for the high school students are to provide support, encouragement, confidence skills, and to practice leadership skills as they help to develop abilities in younger learners.”

The three teachers found that the four-week program, which involved about a dozen high school students and approximately 28 elementary students between the two schools, has exceeded their goals and expectations, and noted that the younger students in particular wish that the program was more than just once per week, and have been taking what they are learning from the older students and sharing it in class on subsequent days with their peers.

“The high school kids have been anxious and willing to work with and connect with the younger students,” said Sue Rose, the librarian at Barrows.

“To the elementary students, the high schoolers are like celebrities,” said Gemma. “They can’t wait for them to arrive.”

According to Hart, the high school students begin preparing for their sessions with the younger students early in the week.

“I meet with all of them on Monday morning each week and we talk about the skills they’re working on and what types of ice breakers and math games they’ll play with them,” said Hart.

Armstrong and Gemma helped to prepare the high school students by passing along the skills that were being taught at the fifth-grade level, to Hart and her high school students.

“In addition to preparing for the upcoming week, I also check in with them to see how things went during the session that took place last week,” Hart said.

The high school students send home a communications sheet each week so that the fifth-graders can share what they’ve been doing with their families at home, and at the end of the four-week collaboration the fifth-graders presented their high school mentors with thank you cards.

“They’re sad to see it ending for now,” said Gemma. “We are hoping that in the winter months we can start it up again and maybe expand it to other grade levels, now that we see how well it went. It has really benefited both groups of kids and it’s been even more successful than we could have imagined.”

Armstrong agrees.

“A program like this not only impacts student achievement, but it also enhances students’ social skills,” she said. “It’s been so rewarding to see high school students and fifth-grade students collaborating and working together to improve math success. I’m definitely interested in expanding this program after the New Year, maybe incorporating other subjects and more grade levels.”

Chester Barrows Principal Janet Antonelli was also pleased with the fact that the program that the teachers created met and balanced both the academic needs of the students as well as their social-emotional needs.

“This has been a wonderful program between the age groups that meets the Superintendent’s expectations and is fully supported by the administrators at all three schools,” she said.