Reflections on a Year of Virtual Tutoring with
Duke America Reads & Counts
When we entered this school year with virtual classrooms and modified lesson plans, it seemed challenging to fully know how learning would take place during a pandemic. Educators, students, and families have been asked to adapt to changes at every turn. Without ample support, it can feel impossible to keep up with it all. In such an unprecedented time, tutors have become an extra support system for our students and teachers. In the Durham community, this is evident in the way that Duke students have committed their skills and time to helping our young people navigate this year.
Adapting to Changes in the Pandemic
America Reads / America Counts (ARAC) is a federally funded work study program that employs Duke University students in tutoring and teaching assistant roles across Durham Public Schools and youth serving organizations. Run out of the Office of Durham and Community Affairs, this program provides members with opportunities to connect with local students and support them as they strive to reach their goals in literacy and math. As DPS adapted to their online platforms in fall 2020, ARAC also began working hard alongside our community partners to incorporate tutoring sessions that are beneficial in virtual classrooms. Throughout the school year, ARAC tutors logged onto their sessions in pairs to lead small group breakout sessions, participate in class activities, assist their teacher during a lesson, and even help create curriculum!
ARAC tutors and teaching assistants worked with students at Audacity Labs, Carter Charter Community School, Club Boulevard, Durham Literacy Center, Families Moving Forward, Forest View Elementary School, George Watts Montessori Magnet, Insight Colearning Lab, KIPP Durham, Lakewood Montessori Middle School, Lyon Park Community Center, and Student U.
A Tutor’s Experience
Santiago Orozco, class of 2021 Duke graduate and former Head Tutor at ARAC, spent this year tutoring with Carter Community Charter School and KIPP Durham. As a senior Head Tutor, Santi had been used to pulling from his past experiences in the classroom to mentor newer tutors in the program. This semester, however, he was learning the ropes of online learning alongside his fellow tutors. “I have learned that online learning is much harder than I expected. I realize that my favorite part of tutoring is definitely building relationships with the students. Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to do that remotely.” Creating bonds with students has required a lot of patience and perseverance from ARAC tutors as they collaborate with students online. When faced with technology difficulties, background distractions, and zoom fatigue, it requires a significant amount of effort to make meaningful connections with students. While these new platforms have come with their challenges, we also found an abundance of positive moments. Santi recalled one moment that stood out to him the most:
“My favorite memory at KIPP was when I got to speak with the family of one of our Spanish-speaking kids. I updated them on how their child was doing at KIPP and helped them out with technical difficulties they’d been having. I’m always incredibly happy when I get to spend time with Spanish-speaking kids and connect on our mutual heritage; being able to share that same bond with a child and their family was an opportunity I’ve never received before but was happy to have been part of. Although virtual schooling has been tough so far, it brings me hope to know that online tutoring programs like KIPP’s have given so many wonderful kids and their families resources to high-quality tutoring and mentoring they otherwise would have never had access to.”
We closed this academic year of virtual programming at ARAC with a lot of positivity, reflection, and excitement for growth. Our staff worked hard alongside our community partners who have played a huge part in making it possible for our TAs and tutors to support Durham students in this uncharted time of online learning. We are so proud of the resilience of the tutors, young people, and educators who all worked so hard this year.