The learning power of Peer Power

October 10th, 2017

The Commercial Appeal | Meah King & Alex Lomax

As a graduate of East High School, I always felt that was the place where I was called to make a difference in the lives of others.

So after graduating from the University of Memphis, I returned to East High School 16 years ago as an educator. When I walked through the front, dingy glass doors, nothing as I had remembered.

The school appeared different, the teachers acted different, and the students did not mirror the classmates I once knew. What happened to my school? 

I made up my mind to make a difference, although this task seemed nearly impossible. For two years, I stayed after school and work with any students who would allow me to help them prepare for the ACT exam.

One day, I heard what seemed to be chaos in the library. I ran in, hoping the students were not engaging in a physical altercation. They weren't.

I learned that a local businessman named Charles McVean was paying them to help their peers with their math classes. A few months later, McVean and Bill Sehert came into my classroom to observe.

Then they asked me if I would participate in Peer Power, a program that pays college students and higher-performing high school students to tutor and mentor other students.

Peer Power students engage in competitions that consistently measure competency in mathematic concepts. Awards include  money, movie passes, gift cards, iPods and iPads.

The academic competitions also provide opportunities to attend plays, nature learning excursions, and professional sporting events.

When the state raised its rigorous standards, many of our students were labeled "below basic learners." My heart was hurt because I knew they wanted to perform and be deemed "successful" students.

With the help of Peer Power's intervention over the past 12 years, I have witnessed students who were labeled struggling learners become proficient on state standardized assessment. 

Their success makes me feel right at home at East High.

Meah King teaches English at East High School and received a 2011 Milken national educator award.

Grief, grit and better grades

In my sophomore year at East High School, I began to thrive in basketball. Being successful is my greatest desire, but I am more than aware that I must be a successful student as well as an athlete.

My grades were satisfactory, but I knew that I wasn’t putting forth my greatest effort in the classroom. In all honesty, I didn’t know that I possessed the tenacity to excel in the classroom.

That year, two people very close to me died. My grandmother, Sharon Shaw, and my basketball coach, Desmond Merriweather. My grades suffered. 

My English teacher, Meah King, told me that I should seek the aid of Peer Power, a tutoring and mentoring program with over 100 "success coaches" from the University of Memphis. They work with students in English, algebra and biology.

I started asking the success coaches questions in class about concepts that didn’t easily come to me. I practiced these lessons  in Peer Power's after-school program.

My grades began to improve. That spring I was inducted into the National Honor Society. I was so excited. I couldn’t believe that I was thriving not just in basketball, but also in my educational studies.

Halfway through my junior year, I decided with much reservation to register for the ACT exam. I was somewhat fearful of taking this exam. 

I attended Peer Power’s ACT Preparatory course, crossed my fingers, sent prayers up for divine intervention, and wished as hard as I could for success.

Three weeks later, I received my ACT score and to my surprise, I met the requirements to attend any university that I desire on an athletic scholarship.

Working with Peer Power, I also discovered a love for writing and the ability to express my innermost thoughts through formatted prose. 

Many people would never expect that from an athlete, but my teacher, Ms. King, led the poetry club and made sure all of her students took it seriously, regardless of our participation in extracurricular activities.

One of our assignments was the theme of grief, something I had experienced in my life. I was nervous when it was time to present and Ms. King called my name. But it helped me accept the divine reality that grief is a part of life.

Vital Parts of My Life
As I sit and reminisce of all that you both are to me 
Tears fill my eyes with mixed emotions, even self-sympathy
Am I feeling sorry for myself because I can no long resort to you?
OR am I afraid that when situations come, I won’t know what to do.
You have always guided me in all the decisions that I have had to make
Whether big or small, the right steps you helped me to take.
I don’t know if I feel abandoned, but I do feel somewhat alone
However, I know that you both are resting in your heavenly home. 
From Binghampton, Tennessee to a mansion not made by hand
The fussing and cheering, you were my number one fans
I thank God for blessing me with Coach Penny Hardaway
Just when I wanted to give up, he encouraged me to hold on, because there would be a brighter day.
Please believe that I also appreciate my mom and dad,
For I was the second son that they had
I can hear Coach Dez yelling for me to drive the lane and Grandma Shaw repeating after him the same.
I can only put my trust in God for I know that he cares
He said in His word, that He won’t put more on me than I can bare.
This pen has been a reliever to the burden of accepting death and yet acknowledge what is right
I’ll always remember My Coach Dez, My Grandma Shaw, both vital parts of my life.

Alex Lomax is a senior at East High School and a member of Peer Power.

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Robert C. Buggs

Peer Power is an enrichment program that helps students succeed both inside and outside the classroom.  This description alone does not serve the program justice because it does so much more.  Peer Power has taught me many life lessons and opened so many doors for me.  Peer Power allows individuals, both adults and adolescents, to partake in activities that he or she may not be accustomed to.  The program aided me in knowing that there is so much in the world to learn, see, and experience.  Over these past six years, the program has bought me laughter, knowledge, and most importantly, comradery.  I enjoy seeing the faces of the program both in the office and outside as well.  These faces that are seen throughout the program are not just my coworkers, but my Peer Power Family.  It happened without me knowing it and I would not change it for the world.  Peer Power is the home where I learned that nothing is impossible, the home where dreams come true, and the home where my heart is.  Although I am out working, earning degrees, and living life, I will never forget my beginning with Peer Power.  As I grow, Peer Power grows, as I achieve, Peer Power achieves, and as I live, Peer Power lives through me.