Mentors learn as they help others succeed

BLUE EARTH – In Blue Earth Area Schools’ tutoring program, the students being tutored aren’t the only ones learning, and that’s the point.

“It’s offering that rich palette of opportunity to young people so they can grow and learn about themselves sooner rather than later,” said Sharon Van Kley, youth development service coordinator at the school.

That is something seniors Monica Krieger, Amanda Tolzmann and Jordan Swanson have learned.

“Just the fact I can help out kids who have been struggling, knowing you can help them do better,” Swanson said.

The district’s tutoring program dates back to 1981, when two guidance counselors recognized a need.

Legislation and funding followed with the service learning initiative in the 1990s, when the focus turned to students helping their peers.

“You’re young adults, you have something to give; you are a resource,” Van Kley said of making students aware of how they can impact their community.

Now, peer tutoring comes under the umbrella of the Blue Earth Area Peer Helping Program. Nearly 100 students work with peers in D.A.R.E., Dads Make a Difference, Orientation Guides, Project TRUST, Sexual Harassment Prevention Play, Students for Environmental Education in School and Youth Frontier Programming.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors can be tutors, and serve in Blue Earth Area elementary, middle school and high school. Tutors meet with clients two to three times per week for 30 to 50 minutes. Because tutoring is time-consuming, Van Kley prefers to have tutors take on one student at a time.

Students receiving tutoring can improve their grades and their understanding of academic concepts. Math is the top subject with which kids need help, but students can receive tutoring in any subject.

Teachers or parents can refer a child who needs help, or students can ask for it. Sometimes students, especially in middle school, need help managing their workload, budgeting their time or getting homework done.

Sometimes it’s the tutors who are getting educated.

“I didn’t think I’d have to re-learn things,” Tolzmann said. “I have to re-read the book to figure out what I’m talking about again.”

“When you haven’t been in that class for five to six years, it gets hard to remember at times,” Swanson said.

“A lot of tutors have said, ‘Wow, that review was really good for me. Having done it again, I understand better,'” Van Kley said. “You will retain 90 percent of what you teach. The students will attest to that.”

Other benefits for tutors are more intangible. Some high-schoolers who tutor got help in their younger grades and want to give back, Van Kley said.

“[Their tutors] were role models to them. That’s what they want to be,” she said.

Tutors learn social sensitivity, being exposed to and learning empathy for kids they didn’t know. And they learn civic responsibility, which is an obligation to participate in their community.

“It’s eye-opening, how learning doesn’t come easy to everyone,” Van Kley pointed out.

One thing Krieger learned is how to listen.

“Just being there, sometimes they have problems or they just want to talk,” she said.

Tolzmann was told her student was shy.

“Now she’s not shy anymore with me,” she said.

“It shows them seniors are approachable,” Krieger observed.

That’s part of contributing to their community and learning how to be a responsible adult, Van Kley said.

“This [experience] is developmental for a high school person,” she said, and it sets the tone for the future. “[They think], ‘I helped here, I can do it as an adult as well.'”