22 big students tutor 22 little students, and all seem to learn EAST COLUMBIA

March 02, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Brieanna Berrian created a math lesson she knew her student could relate to -- adding money and spending it without wasting a penny.

The Owen Brown Middle School eighth-grader, one of 22 tutors in the Puma Pals program, watched closely as Dasher Green Elementary School third-grader Michael Clark counted the appropriate amount of paper cutout dollar bills and coins to purchase pictures Brieanna had drawn.

When Michael eagerly offered two quarters for the picture of the 31-cent apple, Brieanna asked him if two twenty-fives might be too much. Michael reconsidered, carefully counted the correct amount of change and slapped the picture on his growing pile.

"Almost immediately you realize their strengths," said Brieanna. "I realized the first day I was paired up with him that he had a love for math. That's unusual, so we work on that."

The Owen Brown Middle eighth-grade students are tutoring 22 Dasher Green Elementary second- and third-graders in basic skills such as reading and math, and helping the younger students boost their self-esteem with half-hour sessions twice a week. The program is administered through the Columbia Teen Center and is financed through a $1,500 grant from the Owen Brown Community Association.

Liam Straton gave his pupil, third-grader Thomas Ebb, a similar worldly and capitalistic lesson in math. Thomas was struggling to divide 30 into six equal parts, so Liam asked him his favorite food. Chicken McNuggets, of course, replied Thomas. Liam drew six plates and asked Thomas to divide the McNuggets equally in the drawing, promising Thomas he would put his favorite honey sauce on them if he got it right.

The program, which started in January, was initiated by Owen Brown Middle social studies teacher Vincent James, who is assisted by language arts teacher Lisa Gottlieb.

Puma Pals is an offshoot of a mentor program in which Owen Brown Middle teachers pair up with Dasher Green Elementary students. The programs are convenient to run because the two schools occupy the same building on Cradlerock Way, Mr. James said.

The students who participate in the Puma Pals program from both schools are selected by teachers. Some elementary school students need work on skills; others are chosen because they could benefit from the influence of a "big brother or big sister," Mr. James said.

"There's a self-esteem factor," he said. "Working with older kids helps bring that out. It's getting them to feel good and to want to do. We're getting the younger kids who are slipping through the cracks."

The program also provides a learning experience for the eighth-graders, Mr. James said. The older students, who participated in a four-week training program to develop teaching techniques, have a "debriefing" after the tutoring sessions to talk about their methods and successes.

Several middle school students were chosen to help them boost their own skills, self-esteem and leadership abilities, Mr. James said. The eighth-graders will receive credit toward fulfilling the community service requirement high school students must meet, he said.

The middle school students are encouraged to use creativity in developing their own lessons.

"They give you freedom. I get to plan what I think is right for Michael," said Brieanna, who added that the program has helped her learn about careers.

The tutors fill out monthly progress reports on their students.

"I think it's working," said Brieanna. "I think he's improving."

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