As the back-to-school season ramps up, the Youth Tutoring Program (YTP) continues to support youth from low-income and immigrant families with virtual tutoring via Zoom.
The structure of hour-long remote tutoring sessions is similar to in-person tutoring. Student and tutor pairs start off each session with a greeting and an icebreaker, just as they would in person. Now, as YTP Director & Communications Coordinator Erica Leung says, “The session is student guided so that we can address all of their needs, including academic needs, social emotional needs, and relationship needs.”
During the academic school year, volunteers commit to tutoring one-to-two hours a week for at least one semester. In-person tutoring rules still apply, and volunteers are required to fill out volunteer logs and timesheets after each lesson.
Heidi Neff, YTP Program Manager, addresses security concerns of moving to an online environment with so many students. “We work hard to protect our students. This includes making sure that all Zoom meetings have waiting rooms, and a staff member must let participants in from the waiting room, which avoids ‘Zoom bombing.’
“Student-tutor pairs are put in virtual breakout rooms so that YTP staff can rotate through the rooms to check in on students and allow students and tutors the opportunity to ask for help in the breakout room or the main room, where YTP staff are ready to answer any questions from the tutors. Staff can also return to the main room if they need help. Additionally, students and tutors are not allowed to share personal contact info or record their Zoom sessions.”
“We are still serving the majority of the 450 to 500 students YTP typically serves per year. We do have the ability to serve as many of these students virtually using Zoom in three separate hour-long sessions, four days a week.” ~Erica Leung, YTP Director & Communications Coordinator
Some families have chosen not to continue in the fall because they feel their students are getting too much screen time now that so many activities have moved online. Heidi says, “There are other students on our waiting lists who do need support. In most cases, the limiting factor for us in how many students we can serve is how many volunteers we have.”
The need is great. About 30% of Seattle Public Schools youth qualify for free and reduced price meals. Two-thirds of children from households living on low incomes in King County start school at a disadvantage compared with their more affluent peers. Of these, 14,000 never catch up – dropping out of school without viable job prospects. Almost 95% of YTP students come from families living below 50% of median family income, 83% come from immigrant and refugee families, and 84% do not speak English as the primary language at home.
As Seattle schools work to eliminate opportunity gaps for students of color, from immigrant families, and/or living on low incomes – including the 4,269 (31.3%) students experiencing homelessness – nonprofits have stepped up to address their academic and educational enrichment needs.
The good news is that tutors and mentors increase student success! Every dollar invested in youth development results in a $10.50 gain for society (see policy paper Why Youth Development and Prevention Services Are Essential in Critical Services to Youth, Association of New York State Youth Bureaus). Nearly 90% of parents and teachers report academic improvements for YTP students.
Still, there are roadblocks to accessing tutoring. Erica says, “Many students and their families have expressed barriers relating to internet access, need for basic school supplies, and most importantly, electronic devices to help the students engage with their classes and tutoring completely. We received many requests for gently used/new laptops from YTP families, and, with amazing support from our YTP donors, have fulfilled the majority of those needs.”
Heidi adds, “We believe that all of the families have Internet access now but, in some cases, the bandwidth is not sufficient for their needs, particularly if there are multiple students trying to connect at one time. We hope that Seattle Public Schools will continue to work with the City’s low-cost internet program to address the challenge of bandwidth.”
Despite the move to virtual tutoring, the age of students who are able to participate – the majority of whom are in 1st or 2nd grade – has stayed mostly the same as before the pandemic hit. Erica reports that YTP’s biggest challenge as a program during this time has been keeping students engaged throughout the entire hour of a tutoring session. “Our staff has discussed which strategies work best for keeping students engaged in their tutoring sessions and encouraging them to turn their cameras on so tutors can still see their faces. It has certainly been a challenge in doing so for both the staff and tutors.”
A positive aspect that has come out of this shift is the amount of support YTP continues to receive from donors, volunteers, and participating YTP families. “First,” Erica says, “our donors and volunteers continue to give their time and money to keep our program running. Whether that is through virtual tutoring or donating school supplies through our recent school supply drive, YTP has received a great amount of support from many supporters,” even from out-of-state donors.
Also many dedicated YTP families still want to participate in tutoring. Erica has personally spoken with multiple parents who share how grateful they are for the program and the educational support it provides for their students. YTP hasn’t discussed continuing virtual programming alongside in-person programming after it is safe to meet side by side again, but Erica says it’s a good idea to have this as an alternative for those who could really use the support but can’t access in-person tutoring.
Since moving their summer program online, YTP is now adept at helping tutors get set up to volunteer virtually. We are looking for new virtual volunteer tutors!
55+ and want to get involved and make a literal difference through virtual tutoring? Please contact RSVP Coordinator Megan Wildhood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6786.