At Parthum Middle School in Lawrence, an extraordinary scene greets your eyes on Tuesday afternoons. Students are hard at work, and so are their teenage teachers, helping explain what their students don’t understand. Bits and pieces of everyone’s conversations float and mingle in the air, barely registering in other’s ears. “The answer is…16?” drifts over from one corner of the room. “Oh! I get it!” floats in from another.

What is this, this place where kids are willingly teaching and learning after school? This is PALS.

PALS students brainstorm for an essay. (Photo by Emily Hilman)
PALS students brainstorm for an essay. (Photo by Emily Hilman)

PALS, or Philips Andover Lawrence Students, is a peer-mentoring program where high school students from both Andover High and Philips Andover come together to teach seventh and eighth grade Lawrence students from Parthum Middle School and UP Academy Leonard Middle School.  The seventh grade students focus on learning math and writing, while the eighth graders focus on applying to private high schools and studying for the SSAT. These middle school kids are the top students in their classes, and are recommended to PALS by their teachers.

“We’re helping them apply to schools and places that they would otherwise not have the chance to go to,” said Emelly Rojas, a PALS tutor for eighth grade. “And they have this extra feedback and information that they wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been doing PALS. Just the fact that we’re changing their lives in the small ways is so rewarding.”

The students meet up every Tuesday and Wednesday for one hour at either Parthum or PA, depending on the day. After apples, cookies, and chit chat, each tutor takes his or her students to a separate part of the room to teach. PALS stresses individual attention, something most of the kids do not get from their normal classrooms, so there are no more than two students per tutor.

This arrangement makes it possible for students and teachers to build strong relationships with each other throughout the year during the three two-month sessions of PALS.

“I think the most rewarding part of PALS is really getting to make a connection with the kids and getting to know them from day to day,” said AHS senior Paige Finlayson, tutor for seventh grade.

Students who participate in PALS show a marked difference in their academic performance.

Destinie Morales, a seventh grader, said, “I do better in school now, and I feel like I am more confident.”

In addition to helping students improve their knowledge now, PALS teachers, like Meera Bhan, a senior from PA, hope to “instill in them a love of learning” that will last them throughout their lives, beyond PALS.

As Roxanne Barry, master teacher for seventh grade, said, “PALS provides such an antidote to some of the ‘not so good’ things which happen in education today. It is a shining example of what can be done well in educating children!”

By Emily Hilman