Crossroads Education: Developing a Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Model
By Sarah Burkhart, Matthew Croaning, Madi Christiansen
The average student spends 13 years in school, which amounts to a total of 16,380 hours. Such a time commitment shouldn’t feel forced, but rather enjoyable so that children truly feel a strong desire to learn. In today’s educational system, that is not the case. Something must change, and Kevin Berkopes has the passion and drive to change it through Crossroads Education.
Achievement gaps are evident for students across the nation. The average math scores for White students were higher than the scores of their minority peers every year since 2005. In 2015, White students averaged a score of 160 compared to Black and Hispanic students who ranged in the 130’s. Furthermore, Shortridge High School in Indianapolis holds a 15% retention rate of teachers. This means, at the end of the year, only 15% of teachers return the following school year. Often times teachers even leave in the middle of the school year, which forces the students to learn through watching videos rather than interactive learning.
Essentially, the education system does not accommodate all types of learning. Even if it does, the teachers are not around long enough to make a lasting impact. At school, these students have rules, objectives, tests, and silence. They come in, put their heads down and get to work. In Crossroads Education founder Kevin Berkopes’ words, “school is where fun goes to die.” There is a lack of engagement, stimulation, and mutual understanding between the educators and the educated – and the grades and test scores show for it. Berkopes believes that the current education system is one of the longest standing experiments that demonstrate that this way of learning is inefficient.
Kevin Berkopes created Crossroads Education to not just change the education system but flip it upside down. How? By making teachers out of students within a Crossroads Education Learning Commons. The Learning Commons are open concept learning spaces that facilitate authentic peer-to-peer mentorship and concept development. They were designed to shift the culture of traditional learning and introduce educational collaboration, inspired by the use of technology and a comfortable learning environment.
With Berkopes’ peer-to-peer mentoring model, everyone in the education system benefits. Students receiving tutoring are able to learn from the people they can relate to and understand the most – their peers. Students offering to tutor are able to learn in the best way possible – teaching. Finally, teachers are given what they’ve deserved all along – a small army to help educate their students.
When a Learning Commons is introduced into a school, a full-time Learning Commons Director from Crossroads Education is placed there to interview students for tutoring positions. They have found that some of the worst behaved students become the best teachers because they feel needed, challenged, and helpful. The director then gives them the knowledge and language needed to teach educational material to their peers and continues to guide the tutors throughout their teaching process.
Each school is considered a client of Crossroads Education, paying a fee for its services, technology, and furnishing. This allows the business to produce its revenue flow. Additionally, Crossroads Education recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This will allow Berkopes to introduce the Learning Commons model into schools around the Indianapolis area and beyond. His goal is to spread his business model in order to make a lasting change in the education system.
According to Berkopes, on average, 92% of the students in a Crossroads Education school utilize the learning commons facility in the first year. This is an impressive number compared to the average 8% usage rate that other programs have seen in these same schools.
Before Crossroads Education, Crispus Attucks High School had an 8% passing rate for the Indiana State Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP). This is approximately ⅛ of the Indiana state average. After introducing the Crossroads Education business model and embracing peer-to-peer mentoring, every student tutor in the Learning Commons passed the ISTEP test the following year.
Imagine going to school and being told to sit still, be quiet, and get to work. Students are stripped away from their basic emotional needs while sitting at a stiff desk. It’s no wonder they are struggling! But tradition tells us that is the way it has always been and should be done. Berkopes disagrees. When you give students the freedom to learn, feel challenged, and explore their creativity, they become eager to listen and learn because you first listened to them. Due to the fact that a lot of Crossroads Education schools are in impoverished neighborhoods, some of these students have worse PTSD than war veterans, according to Berkopes. The Learning Commons has become the bright point of their days.
Now, students in each school are seeing a 1 to 2 and a half increase in their letter grades, both as mentors and mentees. But more importantly, they feel empowered, stimulated, and worthy.