Education News

Kids Mentor, Tutor Peers to Improve Reading Skills

United Way supports the program in Houston, Spring Branch and Aldine schools.


Here in Northeast Houston, students are staying after school for a special tutoring session in the library.

“A butterfly is born.”

Four pairs of students are buddied up in this bright sunshine yellow room.

At McGowen Elementary, Messiah Hall, 7, and Ariyah Lewis, 10, read together in a peer tutoring program.

They have piles of books at their tables and milk and graham crackers to snack.

“So we’re at McGowen Elementary and this is ‘Learning Together.’”

That’s Najah Callander with the United Way of Greater Houston.

She says what’s different here is the older kids are tutoring the younger kids. But they all need help in reading.

“They’re struggling older students and struggling younger students who are paired together to do peer tutoring. So they have been working together since September with their tutor and tutee. So they do a lot of reading together. They do a lot of talking about the books.”

Take Ariyah Lewis and Messiah Hall. She’s ten years old and in the fourth grade. He’s seven years old and in the second grade.

They’re talking about the book Chicken Aren’t the Only Ones.

“Do you already know something about this subject?


So what do you know about the subject?

I know about the subject that – about how chickens don’t, aren’t the only ones that lay eggs and they have different animals that lay eggs.”

Students like second grader Mariah Goodjoint and fourth grader Alicia Yarborough meet twice a week to read together. It’s the first year the long-running program is at McGowen Elementary.

Ariyah’s the tutor and is following a lesson plan. So she follows up with a question for Messiah: ‘What other animals lay eggs?’

He flips through the book and checks them all out.

“Lizards, dinosaurs, octopuses …”

This kind of peer tutoring isn’t new. The program called Learning Together has been around the country for more than a decade.

Here in Houston, it’s about six years old. More than 150 students in the Houston, Spring Branch and Aldine school districts participate.

Principal Dana Arreola says she wanted to try something different to improve reading at McGowen. She says they selected 20 students for the peer tutoring program, based on test scores, teacher input and parents’ involvement.

This is the first year United Way is bringing it to here to McGowen.

So far kids like Ariyah say they like it.

“It’s not like a regular program. It’s different because you get to help others. It’s basically like you’re teaching second graders. Sometimes I don’t want to go home.

Why not?

Because I get to help.”

Fourth graders teaching second graders is actually working here.

Principal Dana Arreola says many of those younger students started the year off reading at a first grade level.

Now their reading skills are better –basically where they should be at the start of second grade.

Arreola says there’s another benefit for the older kids.

They often don’t get called on in class. But here they get to lead.

“With our fourth graders, our tutors, we see their maturity level, their self-confidence, we see them taking ownership.”

Arreola says that sense of responsibility could lead to even bigger results in the future for these students.


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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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