A salute to graduates | Tutoring fellow students offers lessons of its own

Sarah Fellman was in second grade when she began helping classmates with their schoolwork.

“They asked if I could check their spelling,” recalls Fellman, 17, who graduates next week from Providence High School in Charlotte, N.C.

Sarah Fellman

As the years went by, she became the go-to person for help. “I was helping more regularly and more extensively,” she said. “I always liked school and had been pretty good at it, so I wanted to do something about it.”

Older classmates encouraged her to tutor more formally, and Fellman became the leader of Providence Peer Mentors, a program at her school that provides free peer-to-peer, after-school tutoring on any subject offered at the high school.

“Many people are uncomfortable going to a teacher for help or they can’t afford private tutoring,” she said. “Peer Mentors is a great option. We know the teachers, and [the students] can relate to us.”

Every Sunday, Fellman and her team of six lead tutors called the nearly 200 students who signed up for tutoring to see what subjects they needed help with and to work out a weekday schedule of availability.

Fellman, who also served as captain of her school’s swim team, typically tutored two or three days a week, most often in math.

This year, she even found time to teach her fellow students about Israel. As a StandWithUS-MZ teen intern, Fellman organized educational programs about Israeli morality in war and the environment. She also formed a mock Knesset with her BBYO group.

“It’s been really interesting, and I’ve learned a lot about Israel, especially more intricate details about the conflict,” she said. “It’s enlightened my advocacy for Israel and been extremely fun.”

In the fall, Fellman will head to Harvard. The best lesson from her time leading Providence Peer Mentors, she said, “has been seeing my friends get better. I’m really proud of that.”

JTA spoke to Fellman about professional goals and other topics.

JTA:  Who or what have been the biggest influences in your life?

Fellman: Definitely my parents. They have really encouraged me and let me do the things I am passionate about. They have always been there for me.

JTA:  What would you like to be doing professionally in five or 10 years?

Fellman: I’d like to work in government or a nonprofit and get involved in legislation. I’d like to help people in the different areas that I am passionate about.

JTA:  Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you have had?

Fellman: Spending Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel with other girls from BBYO Leadership Seminar. We were able to join one of the prayer circles [of women]. We danced with them even though we didn’t know them, and we were welcomed.

JTA:  What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Fellman: I have two. Yom Kippur because I like discussion: We go to temple and we discuss what it means to be a good person. My family hosts a break-fast, and it’s great to see everyone and hang out. And also Shabbat. We have some really cool traditions in BBYO, really good services and a lot of discussions. Since I’ve been involved with BBYO, I have really grown to like Shabbat.