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Peer coaches at Culver Academies help classmates with study strategies

Thomas Coyne
 
Peer coach China Whitehead '26 works with Sami Kettanah '26 on study strategies.
 

Nov. 4, 2022

Culver Academies students struggling to find time to get their homework done because of extracurricular activities and other time demands have a resource they can turn to for help: their fellow students.

The Academic Peer Coaching Program allows students to meet one-on-one with another Culver student to receive individualized academic help. But it isn’t tutoring. The coaches don’t help students learn physics, chemistry, or a foreign language. The coaches teach their fellow students study strategies and help point them in the right direction.

“That can mean everything from helping students know where to go for help when they're struggling and help students know where to ask questions,” said Lizziey Sherk, Culver’s director of learning resources.

Ninth- and 10th-grade students everywhere frequently look at a math or physics problem and do not know where to start, Sherk said.

“A peer academic coach is really good to get you over that,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, tell me what you do know about this problem.’ Or, ‘Let's re-read the instructions and figure out what the instructions are asking.’ Then the student can either figure it out on their own, or come up with a specific question that will help them find the answer.”  

The peer coaching program was paused during the pandemic but resumed this year.  Aside from study strategies, the coaches can help develop other skills, such as time management or how to organize.

The goal is for the peer coach to partner with a student to help find out what their concerns are and find solutions to challenges they are facing. A coach might start by asking what strategies a student has tried.

“That gives the student who's being coached some agency to say, ‘I've tried writing stuff in a planner, and it does not work for me. But I'm willing to try something else,’ ” Sherk said. “That allows that peer coach to offer some suggestions that the student can then either accept and try or say, ‘No, that's not for me. I need to work on a different angle.’ ” 

Ariel Hornek ’24, the CGA academic peer coaching prefect, said coaches have “curious questions” to ask students seeking help. She said a common problem for underclassmen is to underestimate how long a homework assignment will take.

Sherk said students such as Hornek are effective because they know the time demands other students are under. Hornek is on the hockey and softball teams and has leadership responsibilities, so she understands the importance of time management.

Hornek said she struggled to keep up with her homework as a freshman because she underestimated how long it would take.

“So I had a hard time managing social life and school life,” she said.

 

Peer coach China Whitehead '26 works with Ella Raub '26 on study strategies.

 

Hornek learned that a planner helps her stay organized.

“I write out what I have to do for the day. I look at it before I go to bed, so I have an idea of what I'm doing for the next day,” she said.

She said her advice is to keep up with the homework.

“Because it adds up really quickly and then you just become really stressed out,” she said.

Hornek said another study strategy she found is effective for her is using flash cards.

“It really tests, ‘Do I know this?’ If I don’t, I just keep on doing the flash card over and over again until I get it,” she said.

Hornek also recommends taking a moment to relax before starting on homework because school can be stressful.

“Rest your mind for a second. I listen to music before I start doing homework and just, like, relax my mind and just don't think about anything. Then I'll write down my homework and then I'll do my homework,” she said.

Hornek believes sports helps her prepare for homework because it gives her brain time to refresh while relieving stress.

Culver also has adult coaches, but Sherk believes student coaches are particularly effective in getting through to fellow Culver students.

“Because they’re on the ground. They have to live the Culver life every day. So Ariel is going to be able to give more practical strategies for another student-athlete than I am as a teacher,” Sherk said. “Students can hear, ‘This worked for me.’ It isn’t just a teacher saying this is going to work.”

Hornek said she likes being able to share with other students the study skills she’s learned.

Another challenge for some students is organization, or as Sherk calls it: “messy backpack syndrome.” She said even some students who are getting things done on time can be wasting time if it takes them 15 minutes to find what they need.

Other strategies include having students draw a picture to explain their understanding of a concept, to ask them to make connections to movies they’ve seen or books that they’ve read or have them listen to audiobooks while reading those books, including some international students listening to books in their dialect to help enhance their understanding.

Sherk said a lot of colleges use peer academic coaching, including Harvard, Yale, Purdue and Indiana University.

“It’s about how to thrive in school environments,” Sherk said.

Culver also has Homework Café, a supervised closed quarters that reinforces study skills. Other options for students needing help for specific subjects that Culver has The Writing Center, the Math Help Center, and the Science Help Center.

 

Lizziey Sherk, director of learning resources at Culver Academies, works with a student on study strategies.

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