LOS ANGELES — Families across the country have gotten used to welcoming teachers inside their homes. But the transition to online learning has been filled with glitches, setting back learning for students nationwide.
“Missed assignments were happening, so the grades started dropping a little bit," said Gina Demirchyan, a parent in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Demirchyan was working down the hall from her 5th grader, and having a full-time job meant she couldn’t always be there to keep her daughter on track.
“It was a learning curve for everybody, I think," said Demirchyan. “It’s been really tough, but I think we just got lucky.”
Her daughter was one of the first students to take part in an online tutoring program offered by the district. It's free for Los Angeles Unified families, and students are matched with volunteer tutors, meeting twice a week.
“Maureen, she’s excellent. She’s actually a retired high school math teacher, which is sort of a dream come true because that was sort of where she was struggling," said Demirchyan. “She has the whole week’s lesson plan. She knows what Sophia will be covering. She likes to say, what didn’t make sense? What are you struggling with this week or today?”
Step Up Tutoring worked with the district to develop the program. A nonprofit, Step Up was created during the pandemic to offer free online tutoring for families in need.
“Because all of the students received devices, it made this possible for the first time," said Nati Rodriguez, a program consultant for Step Up Tutoring. “Students sign up because they want a mentor, students sign up for enrichment, students sign up because they’re falling behind – there’s many, many different reasons why they sign up."
Teachers say students in the program are completing more assignments and participating more in class.
“I believe that any student that wants a tutor should have one. Unfortunately, tutoring is prohibitively expensive in most cases," said Rodriguez.
A statewide program in Tennessee is also showing promising results. College students receive a stipend to tutor students falling behind.
Step Up Tutoring has a five-year contract with LA Unified and is currently serving over 700 students.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of need for students, not only academic but mental health support and trauma support," said Rodriguez.
But in a district serving 600,000 students, there’s a waitlist as more volunteers are recruited.
"We are wanting to expand this summer, and it would be wonderful to have volunteers sign up,” said Rodriguez.
To become a volunteer, applicants must:
- Fill out a short application
- Have a 15-minute online interview with a Step Up staff member
- Get a fingerprint livescan at the nearest station or notary
- Complete the training workbook
- Attend an hour-long, live session (online)
With help from tutoring, Demirchyan's daughter was able to get her grades up and get into a STEAM program for gifted students.
“We want this everywhere," says Rodriguez. "I think every student should have this opportunity.”