Eight service-oriented East Hampton High School students have spent hours and hours of their summer in school, but not in the way one might assume.
Charlie Stern, Griffin Beckman, Maya Taveras, Shirley Jiang, Hailey Welsch, Katie Grande, Caeleigh Schuster, and Cassie Ceva — all rising sophomores — have taken on the role not of students but of volunteer teachers themselves with a tutoring program that has been helping younger peers catch up on math skills ahead of the start of school in September.
Along the way, they're also serving as role models and ambassadors of school spirit, according to Sara Smith, the high school principal. "One benefit that peer-to-peer tutoring offers is growing student connections, which ultimately grows school culture," she said.
Math is not always an easy subject, but according to the 2018 Cambridge International Global Education Census, 38 percent of students worldwide reported that it's their favorite subject in school. That same year, the Pew Research Center published an analysis showing that 58 percent of adults in the United States said they liked math classes the most when asked to reflect on their schooling.
And it's one of the most important academic subjects. "Mathematics is a fundamental part of human thought and logic, and integral to attempts at understanding the world and ourselves," the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction wrote in 2008. It "provides an effective way of building mental discipline and encourages logical reasoning and mental rigor. In addition, mathematical knowledge plays a crucial role in understanding the contents of other school subjects such as science, social studies, and even music and art."
Shirley, one of the eight East Hampton tutors, said she's enjoying the work. "It's really rewarding to find something you like and help others find joy in it," she said. "It's a way to help directly and make a connection."
The tutoring program was Charlie's idea. He said he started it when he realized that there are students in need of tutoring who couldn't access or afford it, and that there were also Spanish-speaking students in need of assistance. The tutors are reinforcing the basics of middle-school-level math, such as multiplication and division, decimals and fractions, order of operations, and pre-algebra concepts.
"This will get them prepared for all their later courses," Charlie said.
Math is a strong subject for all eight students, and speaking Spanish in the classroom with the younger kids has boosted their confidence and vocabulary in that language, the tutors agreed.
There are 24 middle school students divided into two classrooms. Nicholas Finazzo, an eighth-grade math teacher, coached the tutors at the start of the program and provided curriculum materials. "He explained the most important thing is you have to come prepared," Charlie said.
The experience is a positive one across the board, the tutors said.
"It's a really good opportunity for the kids and for us," Maya said. "We all really got into it. The kids feel like they have someone to look up to."
"I like seeing the other side of teaching. It helps me appreciate the teachers' side of things," Katie added.
The eight tutors are the ones doing the teaching, but they're also learning new things themselves — particularly with regard to future career options.
"Math is my favorite subject, and I wanted to explore that interest a little further," Charlie said. "It gives us a taste of what teaching actually might be like."
"I can see myself maybe being a teacher. That aspect of tutoring is really good for me," said Hailey, who compared the tutoring program to being on a sports team in which older students "take you under their wing."
Griffin said he hopes to have an impact on the middle school students in the program. "Kids can be confused in math and not open up about it, but they're opening up to us."
Charlie said he's been in touch with Charles Soriano, the East Hampton Middle School principal, to possibly continue the tutoring program into the school year and expand it next summer. Plus, they're earning community service hours toward their high school graduation requirement.
"They're learning from us," he said, "and we're learning from them."