BV advisory program teaches service, responsibility

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Berryville High School students can perform community service and enjoy it, too.

Through the school's advisory program, seniors and juniors work as teachers aides during one class period a day. Tiffany Atkinson, the school counselor, said the program combines community service and student-directed mentoring. Students receive one class credit for the community service hours they earn during the class.

"Our students are always asking to be more than one student aide. I thought, 'Why don't we offer it as a class so they can go to other campuses?' That's what we did," Atkinson said.

The students, she noted, serve as teacher's aides on the district's elementary, intermediate and middle school campuses. Atkinson said the program began last year when the Berryville School Board approved it right before winter break.

"We couldn't implement the whole program immediately," Atkinson said.

To get the ball rolling, she created a class period where upperclassmen mentored and tutored underclassmen. Atkinson recalled how successful that was, saying it helped one student she had been trying to reach all year.

"He was on probation. His probation officer and I would fight with him just to get him to come to school last year," Atkinson said. "This year, he passed every single class with B's, C's and one D. He told me the only reason he started coming to school was because he liked getting to know a senior."

Atkinson noted that five seniors and six underclassmen are in that advisory class now. With its success, she said she felt more confident implementing the second part of the program. Students generally enjoy being a teacher's aide, she said, so there was definite interest from the beginning.

"There's a lot of kids involved in it," Atkinson said.

Advisory students are not allowed to do certain things, such as grading papers. Atkinson said it's important that the program avoid infringing on the teachers' responsibilities. Mostly, she said, advisory students help younger students who are struggling.

"The teachers love it. They're saying the kids love it because they can work one-on-one with older kids," Atkinson said.

A big perk of the program, she noted, is allowing students interested in pursuing careers in education after high school to have that opportunity before college. Atkinson said she pairs students up with subjects they are interested in teaching.

"I have three students who want to be special education teachers, and they work with the special education department only," Atkinson said.

The benefits of the program, she continued, will affect students long after the school year ends. Atkinson pointed out that universities are looking for well-rounded students and said this program helps students accomplish that.

"You're going to need long-term commitments to show on college applications. If you're bouncing around on different projects or you don't have any, they're not going to care what your GPA was or how you tested," Atkinson said.

Moving forward, she said she hopes to extend the advisory program to cover two class periods. Atkinson said this would make it easier for students who have to travel to the elementary and intermediate school campuses, as well as give them more time to work in the classroom.

"They love it, so that's definitely something I'm considering trying," she said.

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