Sophomores: A Powerful Force for Learning

When we started The Freshman Academy, we came up with the brilliant idea to put all the students that struggle with math in the math teacher’s study/lunch, a 25-minute study time opposite lunch.

Two days after this epiphany, teachers started rolling into my office with serious questions about this “brilliant” idea. During study, lines were forming at the teacher’s desk as soon as the bell rang. Teachers could not tutor because the disruption and distraction of a room full of students waiting for help simply wouldn’t allow it. We needed a different plan.

After visiting with seniors, pleading with them to give up their open lunch to help freshmen in need, and after visiting with juniors to do the same, I was finally relegated to going to sophomores for help. After seeing the power of open lunch on the seniors and juniors, the thought dawned that open lunch could be a motivator if I could secure it for the sophomores. A plan emerged that sophomores would tutor four days a week and have open lunch every Friday. This was the birth of one of the most powerful forces in The Freshman Academy.

Today we have over 50 sophomores (12% of the sophomore class) who work for The Freshman Academy. They are bright, motivated students who really like to leave our building for an hour every Friday, but they also get school and can show that to freshmen.

During the first weeks of having sophomore tutors, the lines at the teachers’ desks diminished. Problem solved. . . but soon cracks emerged in the ability of these sophomores to tutor. Their sophomore-ness came out in some of their interactions.

I met with the teachers to find out what these sophomores were doing. A number of problems emerged:

  • These are popular students and freshmen love to talk to them. They are too friendly.

  • Some are too shy and are standing in the back of the room.

  • They are giving answers to freshmen and not helping them learn.

  • They lack initiative. They are thinking like a student and not like a tutor.

It was clear that training was needed. The sophomores and I now meet three times a semester for required training. This has greatly enhanced their impact on students and remedied most of the problems.

Having sophomores in our freshman study/lunches has become a cottage industry of sorts. They work for us four days a week. They receive training three times a semester. They are examples to our freshmen. They grow as leaders. They come to school with the additional purpose of helping other students. They tell us that this additional purpose matters more than we realized. They impact the culture of our building.

The sophomores love their job, especially on Friday as they drive to a local restaurant for lunch. Leading and learning do have dividends, and the freshmen and the sophomores are raking it in.