Dozens of tutors needed to help OUSD kids overcome COVID learning loss
on August 11, 2023
Path2Math director Margena Wade-Green and six high school tutors gathered in a circle to prepare for the day of summer school ahead. Wade-Green led everyone in a deep breath and instructed them to leave everything outside the classroom behind and “prepare to welcome the babies.”
When the babies — actually six second grade students — arrived, a few ran to hug their tutors. And then the tutors got to work at individual stations, each with a bag of practice worksheets and various tools to help students solve equations.
During the school year, between 125 and 150 students are enrolled in Path2Math tutoring at five Oakland schools. In the most recent school year, 134 students completed 15 or more sessions with a tutor through Succeeding by Reading.
Path2Math, Succeeding by Reading, and Family Bridge need dozens more volunteers to tutor students. As the new school year started this week, Wade-Green, director of Path2Math, said the program is seeking at least 30 more tutors. Succeeding by Reading is seeking about 50 tutors.
At the summer session, Ryah Green pulled a roll of measuring tape out of her bag and practiced solving subtraction problems with her tutor, Jetanii Yancy. The two practiced counting backward while Ryah moved her finger in a looping motion down the measuring tape.
Ryah is among more than 100 Oakland Unified School District students who participated in a Children Rising tutoring program this summer. Children Rising is a nonprofit partner of OUSD that coordinates four programs: Succeeding by Reading and Path2Math which are one-on-one tutoring programs, Career Bridge for high school students, and Family Bridge, which helps with homework and boosting school attendance.
One of the reasons programs like Children Rising are desperate to find tutors is the nationwide teacher shortage. According to a national survey by EdWeeky, nearly three-quarters of schools surveyed had insufficient staffing. OUSD is among those districts. Weeks before the start of the school year, the administration was still trying to fill about 100 teaching positions.
“I do feel it’s not fair to the kids,” Ana Perez-Martinez said about the rotation of substitute teachers her children have had over the past year. And it is “not the same as having a teacher who knows what assignments you’re doing.”
Perez-Martinez’s 8-year-old daughter, Bridget, is in Succeeding by Reading. At the end of the first grade, Bridget’s teachers created an Individual Education Plan recommending her for tutoring through Succeeding by Reading.
In addition to Bridget struggling to read, Perez-Martinez said she and her husband also had trouble understanding Bridget when she spoke. She didn’t enunciate clearly and she didn’t know the meanings of some of the words she was using. Part of the solution was that Bridget have a tonsillectomy, but she also began tutoring during the 2022-23 school year.
Now Bridget is eager to practice reading with her mother and can sound out most words in picture books. At the beginning of the year, Perez-Martinez and her husband worried Bridget would not be able to move up a grade level, but by the end of summer, Bridget was almost caught up to begin third grade.
Many students are struggling to stay on track after the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools shut down and instruction moved online. Researchers at Brown University and the University of Virginia have shown that one-on-one tutoring is an effective way to accelerate student learning after learning loss during the pandemic. They note tutoring is most effective if it takes place in the school day and when schools make “tutoring a core part of a students’ educational experience.”
One reason is that working individually with students allows tutors to see where the student is struggling. If teachers ask, “Does everyone understand?” students are likely to all nod and agree, said Audrey Amos, who retired from a career teaching second grade and serving as principal of John Muir Elementary School in Berkeley. Amos now volunteers as a tutor with Path2Math.
Another benefit of tutoring is that volunteer tutors often have personal ties to the student or school district that enable them to connect with students. In Wade-Green’s classroom, where high school students in Career Bridge tutor second graders, that connection was clear as soon as the younger children entered the classroom.
During the summer session, Briana Ortiz worked on addition and subtraction problems with Miles, an OUSD student, and practiced recognizing right, acute, and obtuse angles. He jumped quickly between equations on two different worksheets, drummed on the table and bounced his leg up and down. “I’m ready!” he said to Briana, and indeed he was — he answered almost every question correctly.
They continued and when sitting still became a challenge, Ortiz and Wade-Green asked Miles to use his arms to illustrate different angles. He spread his arms out wide at his sides to make a 180-degree angle and then spun around. Later, he continued solving addition and subtraction problems while spinning as Briana called them out.
“Some kids just learn while they move,” Wade-Green said. She tells tutors not to assume it means they are not listening, “Maybe they can hear you better when they’re moving.”
Children Rising trains tutors to teach reading and math to elementary school students, so no prior teaching experience is required. The program also provides training in cultural competency to help tutors relate effectively to students.
Information on how to apply to tutor with Children Rising is on the organization’s website.
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