For over 30 years, HWS students have been paired with local elementary students for extra reading help as part of the Tutor Corps @ America Reads program, sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). While social distancing guidelines meant there could be no in-person meetings this fall, tutors were still fully prepared to work one-on-one with their students.
Over the summer, the CCESL staff worked to transition Tutor Corps @ America Reads to a virtual platform so that tutoring could occur safely. This transition was important to Assistant Director of CCESL Amy Jackson, who notes, “the true bread and butter of the Tutor Corps @ America Reads program is one-on-one interaction between tutors and students.”
CCESL Summer of Service Intern Raja Mehmood ’22 played a key role in the program’s virtual development. Under Mehmood’s model, tutors apply indicating the grade levels and subjects in which they are willing to offer help. Parents and students register indicating their needs. Once matched, tutors and students meet over Zoom twice a week for 45-minute sessions.
Before Mehmood landed the position with CCESL, the computer science major was looking for work in the STEM field, but he is glad to have instead gained experience connecting and organizing people. “This internship was certainly out of my comfort zone and definitely a confidence boost. It was one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever taken part in,” he says.
Because of its virtual nature, Tutor Corps @ America Reads has been able to expand its typical tutoring offerings beyond the scope of local elementary literacy. Along with their usual services, tutors are offering general help with homework across a greater range of grade-levels, locations and subjects.
Tutor Corps @ America Reads tutor Alexandra Low ’21, MAT ’22 is tutoring a 9th grader and a 10th grader in both algebra and trigonometry this semester. A mathematics major enrolled in the Teacher Education Program, she is working toward a career in secondary math education.
Having previously served as a Tutor Corps @ America Reads tutor, Low notes that “the biggest challenge has been trying to explain math over Zoom, but I’ve been taking advantage of many Zoom functionalities that I would have never known existed before this semester.” She has become well-versed in using the virtual white board and has learned that alternating screen sharing between her and her student is helpful in terms of both engagement and accountability during their time together.
The new virtual method of tutoring has taken some getting used to, but Low is pleasantly surprised by how well the program is running. “In my experience, things have gone a lot more smoothly than I expected them to, and we are really making it work,” she says.
Brian Miller, the Colleges’ Associate Director for Athletics and Recreation and Director of Athletic Compliance, is the parent of a high school student in Tutor Corps @ America Reads. He says his daughter’s confidence in math has greatly improved since participating in the program. “My daughter is an Honor Roll student who was having some difficulty in upper-level math at the start of the school year. We got her hooked up with an excellent William Smith virtual tutor and her confidence level and grade improved through the first quarter. I cannot stress enough how much our tutor has helped my daughter navigate this important class,” he says.
Jackson believes the program is likely to benefit far into the future. “We’ve learned a lot about our ability to reach people in different ways through the challenge of this pandemic, and I definitely can see us utilizing virtual aspects like Zoom even when the pandemic is over,” she says. Read more about the legacy of the program here.
In the photograph above, Kennedy Jones ’24 tutors from her dorm room in Hirshson Hall.