“I don’t want to do it. It’s hard,” Kenny, 11, pushed the book away.
“It’s okay, I’ll help you,” said Linda, his reading tutor.
This is a scene you might find in many schools – a tutor and a pupil – except in this case, there is a twist – they are both children. Linda is only a year older than Kenny and is his classmate at the Hillsides Education Center (HEC). She is one of dozens of peer mentors who help fellow students learn to read through an innovative reading program, Reading Rocks.
Haltingly, Kenny makes it through the short picture book. He breaks into a big smile, telling Linda, “You’re my favorite tutor.”
HEC Reading Specialist Rob Wherley created the Reading Rocks program five years ago, and it has been tremendously successful. Many of the students are in foster care and, due to the constant moving and inconsistencies in their lives, they fall behind in school. Yet out of 36 enrolled in the program in the 2017-2018 academic year, 18 students improved in reading fluency or comprehension by one or two grade levels, and eight students, by three or more grade levels.
One key to the success: the peer mentors.
“The kids connect with a peer mentor much more than an authority figure like a teacher,” said Rob. “I have never personally been in the foster care system, but when you have two students who are, they understand each other and know how to support each other. “
Being a peer mentor is a big draw for the students. “No one wants to get pulled out of class for reading intervention, but when they learn I’ll train them to be a tutor, they sign on,” said Rob.
Then the magic starts to work because in the process, the mentors learn as much as their pupils. They are asked to read higher level books and read challenging reading procedures, so they receive a reading intervention without even knowing it.
For example, Kenny’s reading has improved from a pre-school level to first grade while Linda has increased her reading skills from fourth grade to fifth.
It turns out, Kenny’s favorite tutor needs him as much as he needs her.
*Names changed for privacy reasons.