Student-led instruction

Aquinas College introduces peer learning to the summer school classroom

Mere months ago, T’Ron Strapp was wrapping up high school at Aquinas College (AC). Today, he is acting in the stead of “teacher” to his peers. The recent graduate is giving instruction in math principles to incoming seventh-grade students at his alma mater in the institution’s Summer Enrichment Programme also known as summer school.

The program provides students with the tools to improve skills they are weak in and introduces students to secondary education before the start of school in September.

T’Ron, 17, is one of five of AC’s former student leaders tapped for the summer initiative. He is also not new to “teaching”, having tutored mathematics during his senior year.

He said he was not intimidated by having to teach.

“Because of my prior experience, I find that the closer the age gap, the better I will be able to teach and relate information to my students. I find that they also feel more comfortable learning from less of an adult figure and it’s easier for them to speak up,” said T’Ron.

Shona Knowles, AC principal, said they saw the need to bridge the learning gap for seventh-grade students entering AC on probation in September, and also had 13 present eighth-grade students who required extra assistance and thought to use former students to create an environment where the students would look forward to learning during the summer.

“This is the first year for such a program. The idea of the program came about out of genuine concern to bridge the learning gap, due to the pandemic,” said Knowles. She and the guidance counselor, Mekia Mason, designed the program.

Chosen to teach along with T’Ron are his twin brother D’Ron, Jasmine Hanna, Dariq Chase and Dana Morrison.

Dana Morrison, 17, a business studies major at Saint Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada, who has also completed her first year of studies, is assisting with teaching English to Aquinas College incoming seventh-grade students.

“We chose the student-teachers because they possess excellent critical thinking skills and sound academic credentials. We also thought that they would relate well to the younger students. They are doing a fantastic job! Without any difficulty, these articulate and focused student-teachers command the attention of their young students,” said Knowles. “We have found the students to be very receptive to the student-teachers who are ensuring that they intentionally hone in on their literacy and numeracy skills.”

T’Ron, who will attend New York Institute of Technology in the fall and plans to study mechanical engineering, said he thinks the program is important to help prepare students to comfortably progress on their academic journey.

“I believe this is a great initiative to help and encourage students that need assistance and it gives them the motivation to excel in the journey they are about to venture into.”

Jasmine, 17, who is also a recent graduate of AC, who plans to attend the University of Toronto to study biology, said she was inspired to teach in the program because she loves sharing her knowledge with others.

“I love to see others succeed, and by teaching, I am able to do that, so when the opportunity arose, I was more than happy to offer my services.”

Jasmine said this is her first time teaching a group of students. She has had one-on-one sessions with her peers to assist with subjects they might have struggled with. 

Jasmine is teaching math to incoming eighth-grade students, some of whom she was familiar with from the previous school year.

“Last school year, I served as head girl and I constantly interacted with the students as much as possible ensuring to be mindful of COVID protocols. This allowed me to already have a connection with some of the students and establish a trusting and respectful relationship on both ends.”

She believes the summer enrichment program is beneficial for the students because she said it gives them the opportunity to ask questions more freely without fear of judgment and the opportunity to catch up on subjects they might have been behind in, and also gives them some insight on what to expect in the upcoming school year.

Jasmine said she makes it a priority to teach to the students and not the class by interacting with each child in a way that suits them and helps them learn best to ensure that each student passes at the end of it all.

“Doing this has reminded me that everyone thinks and learns differently. When I am much older, I would like to be a biology professor. Although these students are much younger than the students that I would be teaching, it still gives me some insight into what that may be like.”

The program began June 27 and ends July 22.

Dariq, 17, a political science and economics major, who completed his freshman year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota, is also one of the former students who have been tapped to teach English and math to students who will enter eighth-grade in the fall.

He said he was initially intimidated, but, after the first day, found himself more relaxed.

“I actually believe that the small age difference between me and the students has added much more to the experience,” said Dariq. “It has given me the tremendous opportunity to relate to the students and to meet them where they are.”

Dariq believes that the enrichment program is important because it provides an opportunity for students who might have struggled during the year to get extra help.

“I think it’s very beneficial for the students to have this opportunity, especially in a smaller setting. This experience has been beneficial to me as it is helping me gauge whether or not I’d want to become an educator. I have always felt that a career in education is my destiny, as both of my parents, and many of my relatives, are educators. This experience has provided the opportunity for me to get my feet wet.

Dana, 17, a business studies major at Saint Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada, who has also completed her first year of studies, is assisting with teaching English to AC incoming seventh-grade students.

Dana, who has experience with teaching Sunday school at her church and functioned as a peer tutor in high school, said that experience has practically eliminated the age difference concern for her.

“The students are respectful and they have had no reason to doubt my ability to teach them the correct thing, so that instills confidence in itself. However, beyond teaching, I think that mastering other aspects such as discipline and addressing student challenges is something all new teachers face, not just the age difference.”

For Dana, it is her first time teaching a traditional subject like English, and she said she is working with a veteran teacher from whom she said she learns daily on how to solve such problems.

Dana said the program offers a new perspective on the educational process.

“I am able to view the classroom from the lens of a teacher and I have gained an additional virtue that a teacher possesses – patience. I also gain experience of the work environment and funds that will help in the furthering of my own education. For the students, the close age range allows me to relate to them and transfer knowledge using the methods that I found to be successful during my time in high school.”

Cameron Walkes, who is entering eighth-grade in the fall, is one of the students being taught by the student-teachers. He describes the student-teachers as “more fun and interesting”.

“This is my first time being taught by a young person. Student-teachers are different because my regular teachers are older and use different, more traditional approaches. The student-teachers are more fun and interesting. The student-teachers do not know everything and we do not know everything – but for some reason, it seems I am learning more. We are learning from each other.”

Mason said the students that are enrolled in the Summer Enrichment Programme have experienced something special.

“Our desire was for the students to be enthusiastic about their learning process over the summer and we have noticed that they are responding positively to our unique team of experienced teachers and former student leaders of Aquinas College. The diverse team serves as an icebreaker for the shy student afraid of the transition, an amplified microphone for the student that needs clarification and an open door for all students eager to learn. We are impressed with the results so far and look forward to more academic and personal growth in our students,” said the guidance counselor.

Two regular teachers, Elizabeth Morrison (English) and Teresine Minnis (math) are assisting the student “teachers” who are also being compensated.

Minnis said she experienced a mixture of pride, joy and self-satisfaction observing her students explain concepts and facilitate learning in the classroom.

“I was at peace knowing that they were comfortable enough with the knowledge gained from their teachers and were able to effectively transmit it to our summer students. This gave me a sense of relief knowing that we are making a difference in the lives of our graduates and they are willing to return to assist another generation of scholars,” said Minnis.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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