Student-run learning program starts at OHS

OKEECHOBEE — Christian Rios, a graduate of the Okeechobee High School Class of 2018, spoke to the Okeechobee County School Board at its monthly meeting on Aug. 1 about his work with the Academic Framework Forum (AFF).

Mr. Rios is currently a sophomore at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and is majoring in urban science and planning and computer science.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Christian Rios speaks to the Okeechobee County School Board.

The AFF is an OHS student group working to bring student-run peer learning to Okeechobee. The group first formed at OHS nearly two years ago when Christian and those in his friend group decided to help each other prepare for upcoming tests. The members of that initial group realized how beneficial this kind of support could be for the student population at large and began exploring expanding the program.

“We wanted to expand because at first we were just helping our friend group,” said Mr. Rios. “My work this summer is to interpret needs and create structure, to create understanding about this program and to build a foundation so students at this high school can have a voice in their learning.”

The AFF sees peer learning as a form of peer tutoring, where students teach each other class and exam content, and peer mentoring, where students help each other with various subjects related to academics, such as college and career prep, choosing classes, and personal support. Mr. Rios was chosen by MIT and awarded a grant to come back to Okeechobee and help create a model for peer learning that could eventually be implemented at other school districts.

In 2018 Mr. Rios and others self-organized into a group that placed tutors into seven classrooms. They held study groups, translated for ESL students, ran practice AP and SAT exams. It didn’t take long for the group to see the challenges that would face a peer tutoring program. They ran into speed bumps such as financing and the logistics that come with a rural county where the population is spread so far apart.

Over the summer of 2019 Christian and the AFF worked with the Okeechobee County School District to restructure AFF programs. They laid out a framework for five program within the AFF, Tutors for All, Exam XL, Mentors for All, Plus Ultra Mentoring and XLerator.

The Tutors for All program will focus on placing tutors in high-need classrooms at first then expanding to 100 percent coverage. The AFF wants to give students and teachers the ability to rank their choices of where they would like to go with the goal of balancing the tutor and teacher dynamic where both want to be there.

The Exam XL program will help students with exam prep for their SAT, ACT and PERT and will be open to all students at OHS. The Mentors for All program will integrate with tutoring an exam prep and will focus on building skills for academic independence.

The Plus Utra Mentoring program will feature specialized mentoring for exceptionally performing juniors/seniors and promising freshmen/sophomores. Those students at OHS will be able to connect with OHS alumni at elite universities across the U.S.

Finally, the Xlerator program will work on closing the gap in financial aid and logistical support for new ideas and education. The AFF will offer mini grants and logistics for new ideas from students and faculty.

“We want to create a structure for the students so they can have a way to tutor and mentor and help without having to do it all on their own,” said Mr. Rios to the school board. “We want Brahmans helping Brahmans.”

“The ultimate goal of the group is to create an environment at OHS where every student has access to peer support for their classes and exam prep,” continued Rios. “I believe that peer learning can be transformative.” School board member Joe Arnold thanked Mr. Rios and said he appreciated him continuing to support the project even after graduating from OHS.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy said he believes the peer tutoring Mr. Rios has started could be a very powerful tool and method of learning.

If you’re interested in getting in contact with the AFF, they can be reached at their website at rioc0719.github.io/aff, official Facebook page atfacebook.com/affokeechobee/, or by emailing aff-director@mit.edu.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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