More Than a PAL - KIPP Nashville

More Than a PAL

If you visit Ms. Bunnell’s classroom at KIPP Kirkpatrick Elementary School, you will notice something a little different during the guided reading portion of the day.

Third graders put on their teacher hats and work with first graders during a special one-on-one tutoring session.

These PALs, or Peer Academic Leaders, have been carefully chosen and matched with the appropriate mentee.

“I started with former students or students I knew really well,” explains Ms. Bunnell. “I was looking for kids who were patient, kind, and also had the right communication skills.”

The nine PALs went through a training process and practiced their tutoring abilities with KIPP Kirkpatrick teachers, who pretended to be first graders, before the program officially began in October.

“The third grade mentors are like mini teachers. I give each third grader feedback as they are teaching to help them better engage with their first grade friend. The third graders follow a schedule that I prepare each week based on each first grader’s individual needs. This schedule provides a structure to maximize each tutoring session,” Ms. Bunnell adds. “After each session, the mentors use a simple system to indicate how the students are learning. This helps me understand how the first graders are progressing, and what skills they should practice the following week.”

“I like helping other kids that aren’t my age. We do sight words, read books, and I ask them how their day was. My favorite part is seeing Ayak work hard and learn.” – Marin, KIPP Kirkpatrick third grader

Marin’s mentee, first grader Ayak, chimes in, “I like it, because I get to learn how to do my sight words, and I like knowing a third grader who is my friend.”

Ms. Bunnell explains the benefits of the peer on peer learning system, which focuses on providing students extra support with sight words, phonic skills and reading.

“The goal is to maximize learning time and provide additional support for students who might not be as successful working independently in their classrooms. This one-on-one support helps them focus and feel successful. Kids usually work very hard for older peers. For some reason, put an older kid in front of our students, and they’ll give it their all.”

Just as you would sometimes see moments of frustration in a regular classroom, the third grade mentors also deal with situations where they may need to exercise extra patience and understanding. That is all part of the learning experience, for both age groups.

In preparation for the PALs program, Ms. Bunnell says, “During our training sessions, I asked the third graders to describe good teaching. Our third grade students brainstormed ways to show love and kindness, while also being in control of the lesson. We also discussed how to be respectful of someone who is not being kind or working hard. It’s amazing to see our kids apply their vision of good teaching.”

For third grader Michael, who himself loves to read, tutoring is a chance for him to help another student thrive.

“I like teaching other students how to learn, and I get excited when I see La’Cory succeeding.” – Michael, KIPP Kirkpatrick third grader

With new friendships formed and additional learning opportunities added to the day, Ms. Bunnell hopes to expand the PALs program to students school wide, so more KIPPsters, like Toriel, can experience the benefits of a peer mentor.

“I like doing sight words with Angel, because I’m shy sometimes in class,” says Toriel, a first grader. “I feel like I’m learning a lot, and I look up to Angel.”