A good teacher uses whatever he can to reach struggling students. It could be books, flashcards, extra homework or, in the case of Hasan Suzuk, a 17-year-old girl.
In what turned out to be a win-win situation, the Dove Science Academy teacher helped 10th-grader Areli Hernandez create a prize-winning science project by befriending and tutoring a gaggle of sixth-grade girls.
Twice a week for six months, Hernandez and eight younger girls, all Hispanic, met after school in a classroom at the charter school at 919 NW 23. While the sixth-graders worked on homework, Hernandez was there to help and to get to know them.
‘Big sister’ The group also bonded over four off-campus dinners – twice at Hernandez’s house. They celebrated each other’s birthdays and played “Secret Santa” at Christmas.
“She’s like their big sister,” Suzuk said. “Sometimes they talk about boyfriends or problems at home. They share everything, not just the work.”
Tests and surveys at the start and end of the six-month experiment showed every girl raised her grades and teachers reported improved study skills and self-esteem. As a group, their standardized test scores jumped almost 20 points in math and 13 points in reading.
Hernandez credits Suzuk with suggesting the science project, which finished first in its division at the Oklahoma Junior Academy of Science this week. But Suzuk said it was Hernandez’s idea to expand the school’s traditional tutoring into a closer relationship.
Now other sixth-grade girls are demanding a big sister too, and some of the original eight who no longer need tutoring refuse to leave the program, Suzuk said. One girl told him she would deliberately do poorly on a standardized test if doing well meant being removed from the program.
Suzuk, who teaches sixth-grade math and computer science, said mentoring works because it is based on a relationship that is not possible between a student and teacher.
“When a student helps them, they see her as a friend, not a teacher,” Suzuk said. Program widens, but no boys In a group interview, the younger girls sang Hernandez’s praises. “At first I didn’t understand some things, and she helped me understand. My grades got higher. She helped me a lot and she’s nice,” Yemelin Calderon said.
“If we don’t understand, we could tell her,” Andrea Espinoza said.Laura Martinez, whose daughter Eliza participated, said she never hesitated to give permission.
“The girls, they need the help. Mine, she was a little bit behind in math and now she’s up,” Laura Martinez said. The big-sister relationship also was good for her daughter, who is an oldest child, the mother said.
Based on Hernandez’s success, Suzuk has expanded the program. He now has five 10th-graders and a dozen sixth-graders involved. So far, the school has not experimented with a mentoring program for boys.