STAR Tutors’ dedication to DeKalb High School continues after NIU spring semester concludes

A DeKalb High School student prepares for exams.

A DeKalb High School student prepares for exams.

Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver?” Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society?”

Forget about those guys. There are new stars in the tutoring game. 

This May, after wrapping up their own finals, a group of NIU students stayed on to help DeKalb High School students prepare for their end-of-year exams.

The NIU students are part of the STAR Tutoring program, which is a cooperative venture between DeKalb High School and NIU.

STAR Tutoring (known in the NIU Course Catalog as ILAS 300) requires NIU students to attend monthly training seminars, provide hands-on tutoring at DHS three days per week and create written reports on effective tutoring strategies. Usually, the tutoring ends when NIU’s semester ends, but more than half of the dedicated tutors stuck around for two additional weeks to make sure DHS students had the help and support they needed before their final exams.

The NIU students who participated are Christopher Thunder, Jessica Chester, Justin Elam, Samantha McConeghey, Jillian Knapczyk, Ben Tatham, Michael Aye and Jacqueline Owensby.

NIU’s Judith Cox-Henderson, coordinator of clinical experiences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said “the level of commitment to our DHS students was very high, and NIU students never had to be asked twice to go the extra mile to help them.”

Together with DHS psychologist Stacy Bjorkman, Cox-Henderson designed the tutoring internship course to provide NIU students with hands-on experience in identifying and dealing with students’ individual learning issues. Over the last three semesters, 57 NIU tutors have held 685 tutoring sessions.

Bar graph of STAR Tutoring participation numbers by subject

Chester, one of NIU’s STAR Tutors, enjoyed the extra help she could give to students who needed one-on-one time to understand difficult concepts. “I love those ‘light bulb’ moments,” Chester said, “when something finally clicks.”

As the spring semester progressed, the tutors noticed while some of the high school students came once or twice for help with a specific problem or concept, others attended multiple times for help in several subjects. Chester said that working with the same students throughout the semester “gave us tutors a chance to get to know them better and build positive relationships with them.”

Through those relationships, the tutors began to see a noticeable improvement in student success.

“We started to see that we were making an impact on students, many of whom had been failing classes and who never completed homework – but who were now doing homework every day and starting to pass their classes,” Cox-Henderson said.

Improving student performance is the overarching goal behind the DHS-NIU partnership, but “the relationship piece is huge,” DHS Assistant Principal Jennie Hueber said. “For many of the students, the connection that they make with the STAR tutors is what is keeping them engaged in school.”

One student’s mother seconded this at a recent evaluation session. “For my son, one of the best things about the STAR Tutoring program was that he got to interact with real college students and find out more about what college is like,” parent Jennifer Verbic said. “And I liked seeing his geometry grade jump way up after he got the tutoring help.”

DeKalb’s new high school opens this fall.

DeKalb’s new high school opens this fall.

Hueber said STAR Tutoring will be an important part of DeKalb’s new high school, which opens this fall. 

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year-and-a-half about how to make this program work,” Hueber said. “I’m feeling very good about the foundation we’ve built and how that will translate into our new school. We really do want to make tutoring a standard practice that our students are comfortable taking advantage of.”

NIU students interested in becoming STAR Tutors should contact Susan Callahan, coordinator of teacher preparation and development for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at (815) 753-6610.

Related:

NIU launches tutoring internship inside DeKalb High School library

DeKalb High School, NIU students chalk up success during initial semester of free tutoring

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