New Academic Leadership class succeeds in virtual environment

Students assist peers through new tutoring services


Photo by Brady Horton

An Academic Leadership student tutor demonstrates a math equation via Zoom during student support. Tutors in the new class offer students help in a variety of subjects.

Brady Horton, Staff Writer

My heart raced as I entered the Zoom call for Tess Schoenthal’s geometry class. I was to lead a group of students through a worksheet and help them with any questions they may have.

I felt like many of my teachers, diving headfirst into a virtual classroom with little to no experience.

While it was a bit difficult at first, I slowly began to connect with and effectively instruct the students in my breakout room. I may have struggled in the beginning, but by the end of my session, I felt that I had learned just as much, if not more, than my students.

This all came to fruition because of a new class at Cal High this year called Academic Leadership, which aims to pair peer tutors with students wanting support in a wide range of subjects. In this class, tutors work either during their individual Academic Leadership period and jump straight into classes to assist teachers, or tutor after school during student support periods.

Math teacher Janice Saiki decided to start the program last year due to her past experience with tutoring and National Honor Society.

“We wanted to provide a class to support students at Cal High,” Saiki said. “It was a good fit for what I am passionate about.”

Saiki’s support and enthusiasm carries over to many of the student tutors as well, as passion for helping other students seems to be at the heart of every tutor in the class.

“I really like tutoring people,” senior Ana Cabral said. “I have experience in the past since I used to work at Kumon.”

But the beginning of Academic Leadership was not always smooth sailing. Because of the new virtual environment, the original plans for in-person tutoring had to be reworked to fit a digital platform. 

Saiki cited the awkwardness of a group tutoring environment in breakout rooms as one of the biggest challenges for the start of the program. But she stayed positive when looking at how students interacted with each other in one-on-one breakout rooms.

“When it’s a one-on-one situation, I honestly think, in some ways, that’s more personal,” Saiki said. “It’s just the two of you, there’s no other distractions.”

Since its rocky start, Academic Leadership has slowly started to make a tangible impact in many Cal programs, such as Academic Enrichment, a course taught by Sarah Eddings and Eghosa Hamilton, that aims to give struggling students the tools they need to be successful in their courses.

“The remote learning format has created huge challenges for supporting students in [Academic Enrichment],” Eddings said.

Eddings explained that it’s hard to make a significant impact on students in the digital format when she only has an average of 10 minutes per student per week to try to assist them with their assignments.

That’s where Academic Leadership comes in.

“When you’re working actively with someone, you’re not distracted in the way that you would be if you were on your own and no one’s watching,” Eddings said. “The Academic Leadership program became a solution for a huge problem I was having.”

Freshman Liam Drysdale has also been consistently using the services Academic Leadership provides to refine his math and English skills.

“It’s been a lot harder to learn [virtually] than it is in-person,” Drysdale said. “[In-person,] if you don’t understand something, then your teacher can easily just come over and help you, but online it’s a little bit harder.”

Drysdale said that Academic Leadership has helped make up for this discrepancy, and his understanding of the subjects has increased significantly.

In the future, members of this class hope to continue to help students thrive, whether that be through one-on-one after school or assisting teachers during class time.Students who need support in class should reach out to Academic Leadership by completing a tutoring request found here or on the homepage of Cal’s website.