Last spring, when COVID-19 forced schools across the U.S. to close and shift to distance learning, the successful tutoring partnership between Shady Side Academy and Urban Pathways K-5 College Charter School (UPK5CCS) in downtown Pittsburgh quickly transitioned online. The program continues this school year in a fully online format.
"Although the goals of the program include increasing the percentage of our students reading on grade level, and helping others to keep progressing in reading and math, it really offers so much more to our students," said William C. Wade, Ed.S., chief executive officer and superintendent of UPK5CCS. "For example, they also are exposed to 21st century skills in our LEGO Robotics Club, which puts them on a pathway to higher education. Another great outcome has been the rewarding relationships that have developed between our students and their high school mentors."
UPK5CCS third grade teacher and tutoring coordinator Gina Marie Potter explained they were able to move the tutoring program online quickly, not only because the charter school was ahead of many other schools in the region preparing their students for online learning, but also because of the commitment and support of Lindsey Myers, director of the Senior School Library and faculty advisor to the Senior School Service Learning Club at SSA. Myers has served as co-coordinator of the program with Potter for five years.Prior to COVID-19, SSA Senior School student volunteers would travel to UPK5CCS two Saturday mornings per month to tutor Urban Pathways students in grades 2-5 in person. Now, those Saturday morning tutoring sessions are conducted on Zoom. Students from both schools are placed into breakout rooms with their partners, where they work together on reading and math skills. They are checked on periodically by proctors Myers and Potter. Tutors use the white board feature in Zoom and its screen-sharing capability to enhance the learning experience for the students they mentor.
According to Potter, progress monitoring and Saturday tutoring communication logs are key elements of the program. "We continually review our students' progress and provide any support they or our families need to make this a successful and fun experience for students from both schools," she said.
The UPK5CCS students and their SSA tutors build rewarding relationships that benefit everyone involved in the program. According to Potter, the tutoring program is growing each year.
"When our parents learned about the great experience this program provides our students, even more Urban Pathways K-5 College Charter School students enrolled this year. We now have expanded registration to include kindergarten to fifth grade. "
Aduan Brown, an 11-year-old fifth grader, and Khaliah Frank, a 7-year-old second grader, are two of the UPK5CCS youngsters participating in the program this year. Brown previously has been in the program, but this is Frank's first year.
"This is Aduan's third year with the tutoring team that these two schools put together," said Asia Johnson-Brown, Brown's mother. "We are grateful for all the assistance."
"All of our SSA students are volunteers," Myers explained. "They do not receive academic credit for their work, nor do they have a community service requirement to complete at SSA. During the pandemic, we wanted to make sure we were still providing support and fostering relationships among the students at both schools."
SSA junior Alex Kramer, who has been volunteering for two years is Aduan's tutor. "I felt like I could make a difference in the community," Kramer explained. "I have thought about being a teacher, and I thought that tutoring would help me prepare for this profession. I enjoy building relationships with the students and tutoring has become a highlight of my week."
Alex's mother, Country Day School fifth grade teacher Raquel Kramer, said "As an elementary school teacher, I understand the need and desire for students to make connections while they are learning from home. I think that the tutoring program provides another opportunity for Urban Pathways K-5 College Charter School students to make a positive connection with their tutor. As a teacher, I feel that the extra support provided by tutors is invaluable. Teachers appreciate the support that tutors give their students. I think that it is a win-win situation for all involved."
Senior Erin Canning, who has been a tutor for two and a half years, is Khaliah's tutor. She said, "Urban Pathways is a welcoming atmosphere because it's not all about being a tutor, but being a mentor and role model for children who may need it."
A total of 42 SSA Senior School students in grades 9-12 are actively engaged in the virtual tutoring program this year, working with 18-20 students from UPK5CCS. The SSA student tutors include: seniors Erin Canning, Alyssa Colen, Rory Engel, Gabi Jegasothy, Paige Shea, Makenna Wolfanger, Jason Wu and Qingqing Zhao; juniors Rohan Anand, Ariella Avigad, Autumn Casey, Aasia Gabbour, Vanessa Han, Gabby Hill-Junke, Georgia Horgan, Phillip Huang, Emmie Jordan, Alex Kramer, Emma Lammert, Karen Linares Mendoza, Jenny Mai, Kira Meyers, Wendy Ojogho, Jamila Snyder, Melody Yuan and Anker Zhao; sophomores Henry Fried, Elaine Gombos, Maeve Kelley, Maya Leyzarovich, Alex Lynn, Smrithi Shyam, Monica Singh, Hannah Song, Chloe Wells and Crystal Zheng; and freshmen Otis Liu, Caroline McLaughlin, Jonah Sackrowitz, Helena Salvitti, Ellery Shapiro and Lizzie Uhlman.
"During these uncertain times, seeing my students supporting the students from Urban Pathways has been a such an inspiring activity," said Myers. "It has, quite honestly, raised my own spirits. I cannot speak highly enough of the efforts of my students to continue serving their community."
Urban Pathways K-5 College Charter School (UPK5CCS), founded in 2011, is a free charter school in downtown Pittsburgh that prepares students for a future that includes high school, higher education and unlimited career opportunities. UPK5CCS serves nearly 400 students, predominantly from the Pittsburgh Public School District but also from 17 other Pittsburgh-area school districts.