Peer Power was founded in 2004 when philanthropist, Charlie McVean launched a student-to-student tutoring program at his alma mater East High. Now in its 15th year, the successful program created the Memphis Model, a partnership between Shelby County Schools and the University of Memphis, which employs university students as tutors and mentors in five high schools, as well as the ACT Prep University. Peer Power recruits, trains and employs U of M students as “Success Coaches” in English, science and math classrooms at Whitehaven, East, Ridgeway, Douglass and Kingsbury high schools. These Success Coaches are assigned to the same teachers and students for the semester, thus building familiarity and trust.
“The benefits are clear. We have seen higher graduation rates, improved ACT scores, and higher teacher retention at the Peer Power high schools,” said Dennis Ring, community development director. The benefits also carry to the Success Coaches who are graduating at an 83 percent clip in five years when the national average is 50% in six years. As University of Memphis President David Rudd said at the opening of the Peer Power Institute, “It is not just the one being helped who is seeing success, it is the helper, too.” It is important to note the assistance the Success Coaches provide helps teachers enhance their ability to be more effective in the classroom. “What moved me about Peer Power was how much it helps the teacher,“ Ring continued. “Extra hands and eyes are so important to helping students in the classrooms.”
Peer Power schools have a program director at each school, so it is not an added task for principals. They work in partnership with the school. The goal for the program is to have a Success Coach in every English, math and science class. Our hopes are to reduce the student to adult ratio, so the teacher can be their most effective. “We know our Success Coaches are not teachers, but they are knowledgeable of the content that is valuable,” Ring said. “The teacher can rely on Success Coaches because they have great insights about the students. We’re another tool in a teacher’s vast tool belt. We have great teachers and we are trying to provide more support to help them to help our students.”
U of M students who are interested go through an application process that includes screening, testing of knowledge, training and then placement into schools based on the needs of the school, as well as how it fits with the student’s schedule. The program employs about 125 Success Coaches each year. These Success Coaches are paid between $11.50 and $15.50 per hour. Funding for the program comes predominantly from private donations, but is also funded in-part by Shelby County Schools. Anyone interested in supporting Peer Power can make donations at the peerpowerfoundation.org website or contact Dennis Ring for more information at email@example.com . Support can also be made by running in the Big River Crossing Half Marathon and 5K on November 2nd. This race supports Peer Power’s efforts. Registration is at bigrivercrossing.raceroster.com.
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