Blazers Teaching Blazers

by Amen Lemiesa and Parineeka Shrestha for Silver Chips

“[Getting academic support from BLISS tutoring] was the best decision… [of] my life,” Blair junior Mitchell Morris says. After struggling with his chemistry class, Morris turned to BLISS, a peer tutoring service at Blair, and saw drastic improvements in his grades, nearly achieving an A after receiving a C first quarter.

In addition to BLISS, Blair hosts a variety of academic support programs that proactive students take advantage of for support with schoolwork.

Student participation in such programs is more necessary than ever, with 2022 math scores throughout MCPS evincing the pandemic’s lingering effects on education. K-12 student report cards and standardized testing for the 2021–2022 school year saw 38.8 percent of students failing to meet expectations. 

This learning loss is clear in the classroom—Blair math teacher William Rose had to lower expectations for his post-pandemic students. “I definitely changed the way I did things last year because I assumed that students didn’t learn everything they were supposed to learn.”

Though Morris’ struggles lay in chemistry class rather than math, he still experienced difficulties first quarter, when his teacher’s delivery was not resonating with him, until he tried BLISS. “Whatever my teacher was teaching just was not working, but hearing it from another student immediately just helped,” he says.

Many agree that peer tutoring provides a more casual setting that better suits some students’ needs. “Students are more responsive to the other students compared to teachers… It’s a more comfortable environment,” junior Alexander Groen, a tutor for the Math Honor Society (MHS), explains.

Programs like MHS and BLISS can be beneficial for not only tutees, but also their tutors. “[Peer tutoring] allows tutors to review what they have learned and what they know,” National Honor Society teacher sponsor Hannah Coleman says. Student-to-student teaching also exemplifies community service and pushes students to interact in an educational setting. “It’s beneficial for the students that are tutoring because it just helps them to give back to the community… and builds a better, stronger academic community,” she continues.

Coleman values the variety of academic support programs available outside of the classroom, including those offered by math, English, foreign language, and music honor societies, for the extra outlet they provide for students who are not as confident reaching out to their own teachers. “I think that having different academic support programs is really nice… While we would love for [students] to feel comfortable going to their teachers, it’s not always something that they feel comfortable doing, so I think that it’s beneficial to the students that need help to have different options available to them,” she says.

Another such program, the George B. Thomas Sr. Learning Academy’s Saturday School, has been active in Montgomery County since 1986. The program hires certified teachers to provide academic tutoring for K-12 students and returned to in-person sessions for the 2022–2023 school after remaining completely virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The school currently offers open academic support and SAT prep classes for high school-aged students across the county taught by board-certified teachers and volunteer student tutors. The Blair branch opened in 2016 and is led by Assistant Principal Rahman Culver, who is serving his second year as the program’s branch director. 

Culver emphasizes that student tutors are uniquely important because they can relate to and encourage their peers. “Students feel that ‘there’s just no way that I’m ever going to understand this,’ but when you’re working with someone you conceivably could have a lot in common with, it can give some additional motivation,” he says.

Though the accessibility and comfort of peer tutoring may appeal more to students, the advantages of teacher-led lessons lie in their professionalism. Culver points out that teachers bring extensive backgrounds in education to the classroom that students lack. “[Adult teachers have] had the training, they’ve had the experience, and are very well positioned to provide a deeper insight as to how to help students grasp information, particularly if it’s challenging,” he explains.

Math teacher and Math Honor Society sponsor Grace Contreras recognizes the differences between how teachers help students and how students help their peers. “[Teachers are] helping in a professional, teacher mindset where we make you think a lot, whereas the peer tutors tend to be a little bit more direct in answering questions.”

Receiving academic support outside of the classroom can make learning new content straightforward and stress-free. “There are no requirements… All you have to do is come in and ask for help," Coleman says, "and either the sponsor there will be willing to point you in the direction of an [adult] tutor or a friendly [student] tutor like an upperclassman, or we’ll come on over and ask if you want any help.”

This article was printed on page D5 of the March 2023 issue of Silver Chips.