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Classmates lend a helping hand

Andrew Smeed, Zach Eichten and Jake Koestler found Rosemount High School's Community Peer Network.

The tables were empty at last Friday's afternoon session of Rosemount High School's Community Peer Network. That's the way they are more often than not. But the students behind the new peer-led tutoring group don't seem concerned. The way see it, this is a trial run. The real work starts next fall.

CPN got started earlier this school year in the basement of RHS junior Andrew Smeed. Smeed and fellow juniors Jake Koestler and Zach Eichten were talking about how disorganized and ineffective previous tutoring efforts had been at the school, and they figured they could do better. All three are honors students, and they knew a lot of other smart people.

More important, they knew smart people who, thanks to membership in groups like National Honor Society, had community-service obligations to meet.

So, they started recruiting.

"We kind of just felt like, why not us?" Koestler said. "We just wanted to be a part of something and help the community any way we can."

Smeed, Koestler and Eichten spent time during the second trimester planning CPN, and they officially launched at the start of the third trimester. They have 25 or 30 students who take turns offering help at tutoring sessions before and after school every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Most of the tutors are generalists, able to help in a wide range of subjects. But there are also tutors who can offer specialized help in language classes and others subjects that don't reach a broad audience.

The CPN founders have tried to get the word to teachers they are available to help, and they just printed flyers to post around the school. They are working on a web page, and they hope to get a link from the school's main site once it's done.

For the moment, though, their presence is not widely known. They estimate about two-thirds of their tutoring sessions go by without anybody stopping for help.

All three of the founders believe there is a benefit to having student-run tutoring. They figure there is less intimidation associated with asking a peer for help than there would be approaching a teacher. They know how to explain things in a way that makes sense to someone their age.

"There's not really an intimidation factor like you're too scared to ask questions because you don't want the teacher to think you're dumb," Eichten said. "But the tutors here don't know what you've been over in class. They just know you need help in a specific area."

The tutoring seems to help the students who show up, and some teachers have already said they will direct people who are struggling to CPN.

Running the group has been a good experience for Smeed, Koestler and Eichten, too. They've learned what it's like to lead a meeting, and they've gotten to feel like they are making a difference.

"You're able to help people in other organizations like NHS, but here you can really see the impact and you know the students," Eichten said.

Now they just need people to show up.