High School Students Help Their Peers

By Deborah Hart

As one of the highest-ranking academic high schools in California, San Marino High School might seem like a place where at-risk students could fall through the cracks. However, the same attention to individual students that produces high achievement also is directed to those students with academic or learning issues.

San Marino, which serves 1,147 students, established the Peer Mentor Program in 2005 to help students who are struggling in their classes. It pairs students with peers who can work with them on their individual issues. Students with language, behavioral, or academic concerns are paired up with a mentor who attends class each day with that student. If a student is not a native English speaker, maybe not always understanding the teacher or the homework assignments for the class, he or she is paired with a peer mentor who is proficient in the curriculum of the class and preferably speaks the student’s native language. Even if the mentor does not speak the student’s language, working with a peer assigned to offer support usually increases comprehension.

Students who need peer mentors are identified by the school psychologist, counselors, and teachers. They may require peer mentors for only one class or for all of their classes. The combination of mentor and “mentee” is solely dependent on the needs of the individual students. If a student is academically proficient, but has trouble staying focused and organized, having a mentor in class helps with staying focused. A student with behavioral issues may learn more appropriate behavior from a peer than from a teacher who must continually stop the class.

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