4 reasons why we provide online tutoring in Virginia Beach city schools

A reliable, effective online tutoring program helps us cater to a wide range of student needs during the day and after school.
Monica Robinson
Monica Robinson
Monica Robinson is the K-12 academic support programs coordinator for the department of teaching and learning for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Five years ago, before we added online tutoring, we used a “homework help” phone line monitored by retired teachers. Those teachers were on call and tasked with helping students across a broad range of subjects. Unfortunately, the service was underutilized. In fact, just a handful of students—out of 66,000 in 84 schools—were calling each week.

The homework helpline could have been more efficient but teachers on a phoneline could not be expected to provide support in all subject areas, yet that is exactly what was expected of them. They were answering questions about everything from third-grade math to AP physics and all points in between.

After spending a year using an online tutoring system that was phased out fairly quickly, we switched over to using FEV Tutor’s live 1:1 personalized online tutoring program, which I learned about at the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators conference. I went to their table, talked to them, and told them what we were looking for—namely on-demand tutoring and homework help.

We initially started with homework help. In 2021, we expanded our use of the tutoring program to include small group work (three students to one tutor), with teachers scheduling sessions for the students during the school day. From there, our use of online tutoring grew rapidly. The platform also proved invaluable during the pandemic when students needed more than just a single pass in a Zoom class to absorb and retain the course material.

4 reasons online tutoring works for us

Here are four reasons we have used this approach and how it has helped our district, teachers, and students succeed:

1. Promote equity across the district. We must understand that not everyone has access to a support structure—a parent, tutor, or other individuals—after school hours. That is where our online tutoring program steps in and provides the necessary support to drive student gains at any time of the day, at no additional cost to the families. As a parent myself, I know that private tutoring costs around $25 to $30 per hour. From an equity standpoint, I wanted something our students would not have to pay for and could use regardless of family income.

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2. Cater to the needs of specific schools. Our district’s academic success coach, the dedicated rep from our tutoring partner, has met with the individual schools and developed various tutoring plans for them. For example, some schools use online tutoring during math class every week and have a set of skills they work on with those students that are aligned with our curriculum.

3. Provide specialized support for specific subgroups. We just rolled out a tutoring program for incoming students for whom Spanish is their first language. The “newcomer program” is designed for students who are matriculating into the district’s system. There are currently eight students in this tutoring program, which incorporates online math tutoring for 90 minutes every Tuesday morning. The program is going very well.

4. Give teachers support. Teachers have a lot on their plates right now for various reasons, so anything we can do to support them is valuable. It is a lot to ask teachers to stay after school to tutor students, no matter how much compensation you offer them.

Students still need that support when they are working on homework at night or to close math gaps. Live, online tutoring can add tremendous value that’s so important to student achievement. Moreover, most teachers love the program because any support they can have in their classrooms is always welcome.

Making things happen

This school year, our usage of the tutoring platform has increased by 75%—totaling more than 300 students engaged in over 500 sessions weekly. Both teachers and students appreciate the in-school and after-hours support that the platform provides.

Having a reliable, effective online tutoring partner in place helps us cater to a wide range of student needs and capabilities during the day and after school. For example, many of our high school students have jobs and start their homework at 9 or 10 p.m. Having a trained tutor to offer personalized, on-demand learning support at that time of night is a bonus.

We have individualized the platform for each school, which in turn allows teachers to create individualized tutoring plans and share that with parents. So, if a teacher wants to make sure a student gets math support every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m., based on information from parents, we can make that happen. Because in the end, we want to help students to get the academic help they need, at home or school, at any time of the day.

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