Teens are becoming tutors to help their classmates get ahead

Each month, iGeneration Youth features a young person who is making a difference, chosen from among those who perform a one-time act of heroism to phenoms who don't let their age stop them from tackling – and sometimes solving – real-world problems. This month, we spoke to Amir Davis, 16, from Queens, N.Y., who, together with six other teens, runs a special tutoring program for other youths in his community.

Kayla Nartey: What was a problem you saw in your community that had a big impact on teens, and how did you try to solve it?

Amir Davis: In New York City, there are eight STEM-oriented public high schools called "specialized high schools." Admission to these specialized high schools is determined by the results of a single test, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). In 2017, over 27,000 students took the exam for 3,500 admission spots across the eight schools. There has been a robust debate about the admissions process because while the NYC public schools are predominantly African American and Latino (about 68%), these populations represent only 10.4% of the students admitted to the specialized high schools. As a student at Brooklyn Tech, which is one of these schools, and as an African American, I was disheartened at the low admission rates of black and Latino students.

A key contributor to the low admission rate is that a number of black and Latino students opt out of taking the exams, with many families not appreciating the option open to them. So I tried to help the kids in my area prepare for the test while also helping them with their own school's material.

Q: Who are the people whom you help?

A: I normally help middle schoolers who are struggling in their classes or preparing for the SHSAT. However, if there is someone younger at the tutoring center who needs help, I will not hesitate to provide it.

Q: How do you help them?

A: During a session, I first address what the students are doing in their classroom. If they are having trouble with any specific topic, I will walk them through it or refer them to another tutor who might understand the topic better than I do. With this help, the students can expect to improve in a difficult subject, which can benefit them on tests and in the classroom.

Q: How did you put your plan in motion?

A: My father recently acquired a building, so, we turned the building into a tutoring center to help the youth in our area. My father was able to make the right connections and get students from a nearby specialized high school to aid in tutoring. From there we advertised the tutoring program across the neighborhood.

Q: Did you have any help or a mentor?

A: During the program, I got help from the other tutors who came from the nearby specialized high school, Queens High School for the Sciences. These other tutors offered unique skill sets that could help in explaining topics I wasn't as sharp in.

Q: What's the most difficult thing about being a teen tutor? Does it matter that you're a teen?

A: Probably the most difficult thing about being a teen tutor is learning how to be patient. For example, I had to learn to avoid becoming frustrated if the students do not pick up a topic immediately. To answer the second question, I think it's better that I'm a teen because they are able to relate to me. Often, I can make jokes with the kids and make the situation a lot more lighthearted.

Q: What do you get out of it?

A: Probably the most rewarding thing is seeing a student advance from having extreme difficulty with a topic to becoming completely proficient and doing well in school because of it.

Q: How should students who want to become tutors go about it?

A: If another teen wanted to do something like this, they first should find a space that can accommodate participants. Then, find people who are reliable and could be counted on to help accomplish the goal. You can do this by reaching out to local high school officials or even consulting your friends. From there, advertise your program to the target participants. Of course, you don't have to create your own program. Rather, you could volunteer for a tutoring program in your area.

Q: How does this fit into your long-term goals?

A: I want to be a positive force and a role model for kids in my community. Opportunities such as these allow me to contribute to my community and serve as a positive example for others.


Kyla Nartey, 13, is an iGeneration Youth reporter living in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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