Mary Liakas, a junior at Thompson Valley High School, has spent years exploring many different interests and activities—more than she can even list off the top of her head—and it has taught her a lot about her goals.
“I think with anybody, you’re just interested in what you’re interested in,” she explains. “I’ve been very fortunate with the successes I have had. My mom is an elementary school teacher, so I kind of got a head start on reading and math. But I was taught that when somebody is not where you’re at, why don’t you talk to them? Why don’t you raise your hand and ask the question they are afraid to ask?”
It was that mindset that led to the creation of Varsity Tutors, the academic support group Mary started at TVHS to help her fellow students. She originally intended for the group to provide tutoring to student athletes to ensure they could remain eligible.
“For some students, exercise and health and wellness are their life. So if you can’t do what makes you happy because you’re not good in school, you shouldn’t be penalized from what you love. Why should they be penalized because they don’t understand a subject?” Mary says.
Mary explained that when two of her friends found themselves unable to play football due to their academic ineligibility, she had the idea to provide a convenient, school-based group of peer tutors, covering as many subjects as possible, for student athletes. TVHS principal Jaymie Cruickshank was very supportive of Mary’s idea and allowed Mary to do a presentation for the school’s staff, where she received a lot of positive feedback.
“I started to think, maybe this could actually happen,” Mary says. She began to work out the details, which involved recruiting students to work as tutors during their Extended Learning Opportunity time, figuring out how to identify students in need of help, and working with teachers to get permission for tutors to come into study hall classes to help students in need of support.
It was during all of this planning that Mary realized there was a bigger problem to solve.
“My original idea, and the reason I created Varsity Tutors, was to exclusively help athletes,” explains Mary, who is a varsity tennis player herself. “But I would never turn a student away just because they don’t have the athletic capability. We end up helping a lot of non-athletes too. At this point, we don’t even ask people anymore what sport they do, because we’re here to help you learn, and your athleticism shouldn’t hold you back from getting help.”
Now, students coming for tutoring come from many different sources, including referrals from the athletic department for ineligible athletes, and students recommended by teachers for help. Varsity Tutors has 11 student tutors and helps dozens of students each week.
“I’ve learned that sometimes just to hear the information from peers, through a different voice or different explanation, that benefits everybody,” Mary says. “All of the teachers I’ve talked to are very excited about this program. Eligibility rates have gone up, Fs have gone down. It’s a very successful program so far.” Her next goal is to find an accurate way to measure the effectiveness of the tutoring group, and to use the data to tweak the program.
Varsity Tutors is just one of the many areas to which Mary commits her time and energy. In addition to running the program and playing on the TV tennis team, Mary is also president of Thompson Valley’s DECA and FBLA clubs, sits on TV’s Principal Advisory Team, is in charge of social media and announcements for the TV Student Council, works part-time as a cashier at Scheel’s, is a member of National Honor Society and the City of Loveland’s Youth Advisory Committee, and says that she was recently honored to serve as the emcee for TV’s Homecoming pep assembly.
Mary hopes all of this hard work will translate into a career in business, particularly in finance, which she considers to be an important aspect of everyone’s lives.
“I was brought up with the value to use your voice to make positive change, versus not using it at all,” Mary says, crediting her mom Michelle (a teacher at B.F. Kitchen Elementary School) and her sister Emma (a freshman at Syracuse University in New York) with inspiring her to do her best.
“My mom is a huge reason I am as successful as I am. She says it’s doesn’t matter what grade I get or if I win or lose, it just matters how much effort I put in—and I can always do better. I can always put more effort in. If you start putting in effort now, it’s going to carry into adulthood.”