Educate Jamaica, through its Education Innovation Projects (EIP), is introducing a student-directed programme to help students raise their social and academic levels in school. The programme called PEER-to-PEER ACADEMY (PPA) seeks to develop the leadership potential of teachers and student mentors, whilst simultaneously offering much-needed support to several students who are under-performing. The methodology is operationalised through a comprehensive system of mentorship which comprises student-to-student and teacher-to-student support systems.
Many students across the island are underachieving and ways need to be found to address their weaknesses. It is well known that innovation in education is one of the ways to facilitate and encourage the necessary improvements we require in our education system. The magic is not in the technologies of the day, or the material and /or financial resources, but rather the students who are the single most important stakeholder group, because they are in the best positions to play the central role in their progress and development.
PEER-to-PEER ACADEMY (PPA)
PPA is a dynamic and all-inclusive programme which seeks, not only to improve the outcomes for low-achieving students but also that of the top performing students, as they sharpen their own understanding of concepts when they assist others in grasping the same. PPA is a student-directed learning programme (with minimal supervisory oversight from teachers), which utilises the knowledge of the higher achieving students to improve the learning of the lower achieving students. Students who are better performers (above 75%) are often regarded, by the school community, as leaders and their role will be to aid their peers to understand and master the learning process in subjects these leaders are succeeding in. The Peer Leaders are referred to as STUDENT MENTORS and they are guided by subject teachers in mentoring their peers. The principal of the school holds ultimate oversight.
Belmont Academy Experience
Belmont Academy presents a case study of the success of the strategy. Developed and implemented through the vision and guidance of the principal, Mr Rayon Simpson, the PPA methodology has yielded significant success in enhancing student performance at Belmont over the three-year period from 2013 to 2016. Among the indicators of the efficacy of the methodology is the increase in the percentage of grade 11 cohort obtaining passes in 5 or more CSEC subjects (including Mathematics and/or English) moving from 14.5 % in 2013 to 93% in 2016. It is noteworthy that the grade 11 cohort grew by over 300 % over the same period.
Principal Simpson and his team at Belmont Academy credit the Mentorship programme as the most significant game changer in this paradigm shift.
Extensive research has shown that students receive much valuable information from each other when placed in situations where they are expected to interact for the purpose of learning.
Classroom teaching, as we know it, is not the only opportunity available for students to learn and we are always seeking ways to be innovative. We are desirous of reaching those students who are not performing at the expected. These students need support in order to achieve the expected level. Peer-to-Peer Academy aims to improve the academic standard of low-performing students, allowing them to experience a significant improvement in self-esteem, self-confidence, levels of engagement in lessons and as a consequence to ultimately transform this group into self-directed and motivated learners.
Definition of Peer Leaders
The peer learning group is called a Learning Unit.
A Peer Leader is a student who is achieving 75% or more mastery in a particular subject and is willing to enhance his/her fellow students as a leader of a peer group (no more than 5 students).
The subject teacher will oversee the organisation of the subject matter being worked on by the group, in order to keep a clear understanding of what needs more attention, as well as manage the results of the collaborations.
BENEFITS OF PEER-to-PEER ACADEMY
The goal of PEER-to-PEER learning is to improve student outcomes. It engages the following strategies which demonstrate visible successes:
In the PEER-to-PEER arena, students learn significantly when they explain ideas to each other. They develop skills in organising through planned learning activities. They benefit significantly through collaboratively working with each other while receiving useful peer-friendly feedback, which is often seen as more non-judgemental compared to the typical, competitive classroom environment. This experience represents a wonderful life-long learning opportunity for all parties. It creates bonds of helpfulness and increases the connection amongst our young citizens who benefit from this strategy.
The Peer Leader volunteers his/her services and offers to work with a small group of fellow students who will meet three times per week for up to two hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, to work on subject matter that is presenting a challenge for those in the group. Special attention will be placed on a few key subjects including Mathematics, English Language, Biology, Spanish, Chemistry, and Physics as these form the base for a good start. The subject areas being focused on will ultimately be the decision of the school as different schools will have different needs.
ROLE OF PRINCIPAL AND TEACHERS
Based on student performance, the Principal and teachers identify students who, potentially, can contribute to, and gain benefits from the PPA initiative. The Peer Leader is either invited to participate or volunteers his/her services and offers to work with a small group of fellow students who will meet, three times per week for two hours on each occasion - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They work on subject matter that members of the Learning Unit have identified as being challenging. The Principal will be the Chief Mentor and he will be assisted by four teacher-mentor-supervisors, all of whom, it is proposed, are to be named and incentivised as teachers with posts of special responsibilities. These posts may or may not be approved by the Ministry of Education Youth and Information. If they are approved by the MoEYI, then the Ministry will pay the seniority allowances; if not, the programme will be so designed that it raises funds to remunerate the respective teachers. The programme will also seek to incentivise the peer leaders. We propose that those students who are interested in participating in the programme, be required to contribute $300 each per week as an incentive payment to the Peer Leader. This will happen as long as they are attending the group meetings. The contributions are paid through the Principal into an individual account at Jamaica National Bank. Students will select the group that they wish to be a part of, in advance, so as to prevent conflicts or over-subscription, as some subjects may spark more interest than others. Each Peer Leader will have $1,500 credited to his/her account monthly and the balance will be pooled for bonus options to the Peer Supervisors and Peer Leaders as encouragement for their further involvement. Parents of the students will register their children in the Peer-to-Peer Academy and contribute $100 as a registration fee (which will help with the administrative cost of managing and monitoring the programme). The future projection is that with improved results at the school level the whole society will see this innovation as being vital. Special attention is being placed on the following key subject areas, Mathematics, English Language, Biology, Spanish and Information Technology, as these form the base for a good start.
It should be noted that the above funding structure of the Peer-to-Peer is only a suggestion and that some schools may have other ways to raise funds for the programme. We encourage schools to be as creative as they can with fundraising, as they adopt PPA into their school.
The PPA coordinators are Rayon Simpson (Principal of STATHS), Ainsworth Darby (Educate Jamaica) and Trevor Bowes (A philanthropist/Life Coach/Mentor).