How tutoring keeps online students engaged 

Students in grades 3-12 can schedule time with a virtual tutor or seek help on-demand
By: | February 22, 2021
(AdobeStock/Marina Zlochin)(AdobeStock/Marina Zlochin)

When administrators in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools realized a return to in-person instruction remained unlikely in fall 2020, they decided to give students access to nearly 24/7 tutoring online.

The large district, headquartered in Louisville, contracted with a company called FEV to offer free tutoring to students in grades 3-12. Students can schedule time with a tutor or seek help on-demand.

Because neither students nor the tutors use cameras or microphones to protect privacy, all questions are asked via a chat box. Screens can be shared, and documents can be uploaded, and a whiteboard feature allows tutors to do demonstrations.

The sessions are also recorded so students and parents can go back and review. Students can rate the tutors and leave comments about the sessions, says Staci Eddleman, the district’s director of federal programs.

More from DA: How tutoring can take COVID recovery burden off teachers

The program is particularly effective when students have questions stemming from asynchronous classes, and during times of day when they are unable to connect with the teacher, such as later in the evening.

“We know this is hard on our students and families, and we want to keep students engaged,” Eddleman says. “We don’t want them to get frustrated and stuck on something if they’re not going to see their teacher for a few days.”

The district also sends 30 substitutes each day to community learning hubs where students can go to connect to Wi-Fi and do classwork.

The district has tapped a local nonprofit, Evolve502, to connect the substitutes and the learning hubs. Evolve 502 also works with the district to ensure students at the hubs get breakfast and lunch and that staff have access to personal protective equipment.

This community initiative should have an impact even after the pandemic is under control, as the district hopes to expand the learning hubs in the coming years and involve more organizations, says Charles C. Davis Jr., Evolve502’s director of comprehensive services.

“We recognize things will never be the same post-COVID,” Davis says “This is one of the better things that won’t be same—how the district works with the community. It will be a much closer relationship.”