Adelle Schade

Pods + “Zutors” = education solutions during COVID-19

There has never been a time like this in American education. During a month normally devoted to back to school shopping and family vacations, August 2020 finds parents agonizing over modified options for in-person or online education, amid seemingly daily K-12 educational strategy updates.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on the educational, psychological and physiological well-being of children is on the mind of every parent across the country. Will children going back to school be healthy and safe? Will students studying from home fall behind or feel isolated?

For many, remote learning is not a decision, but a reality. As of early August, 17 of the nation’s 20 largest school districts (home to more than four million students) chose to offer remote learning as their only fall instructional model.

But how will employed parents keep children engaged and learning at home? How will they meet their children’s educational needs for unfamiliar course content like new math? What about their children’s social and emotional needs?

Enter the formation of “pandemic pods,” in which several families band together so that their children are able to learn together, sometimes rotating home locations to help parents continue working. The small groups afford children much-needed social engagement, while their educational needs are guided by common “Zutors” (tutors on Zoom). 

Pods can be subject specific, with Zutors offering personalized cognitive, social, emotional and content-driven guidance. Other Zutors aid students with broader study skills, literacy and multiple-subject homework help. Some pods even include in-person components by certified teachers.

In pockets around the country, families and neighborhoods are using social media to self-organize pods. But what about parents who don’t have a group of families with which to band together? And how do pods connect with worthy Zutors without stressing school system educators and administrators?

Times of crisis call for innovative solutions, utilizing community resources.

Luckily, Berks County has a viable resource in our local college students. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence shows significant social and academic performance improvements of students who work with college-age mentors in tutoring or mentoring programs focused on targeted skills or academic development.

Unsurprisingly, this connection doesn’t just benefit mentees. Studies also show increases in self-esteem, interpersonal and problem-solving skills, community service self-efficacy, political awareness, and civic action for college students following tutoring/mentoring experiences with community youth.

Recognizing the benefits to both K-12 and college-age students, Albright College has formed the Albright TutorDen.

The Albright TutorDen allows parents to enroll their students in personalized tutoring services, or create pods up to a maximum of five students. Certified by the international College Reading and Learning Association, Albright College student-tutors are able to provide educational, cognitive and emotional support – while at the same time gaining real-world education leadership and effectiveness experience.

Of course, tutoring can be expensive, furthering the divide of educational equity. In Pennsylvania, the average cost of personalized tutoring services is $40-$80 per hour for a tutor with an undergraduate degree, and can be upwards of $100 per hour for a certified teacher.

TutorDen, much more cost effective than regular personalized tutoring is designed to help families overcome monetary barriers by allowing groups of students to split the cost of tutoring. And families that are registered as low-income through their school districts (designated by the National School Lunch program) can apply for grant funds to cover registration fees. Fundraising efforts are already underway to provide enrollment fees for low-income families.

But online education isn’t new. Scores of students take part in it each year. So even though the Albright TutorDen was born as a solution to pandemic issues, it’s likely to become a long-standing curricular bridge for youth in our community. 

Today and in the future, parents of younger students may seek additional voices to help their children navigate the complexities of online education. Older students, whether learning online or in-person, may need higher-level subject-specific help in AP or college-prep courses. Having (recently) successfully navigated such programs, college-age certified tutors are ideal learning partners – not to mention role models – for high school students.

And research shows that as role models outside of the students’ common network of family, peers and teachers, college-age mentors have a significantly positive impact on the academic, social and emotional developments of their mentees. Their status as younger adult mentors helps them more-easily connect, emotionally and socially, with today’s youth.

It is so energizing to be knee-deep in the planning of innovative programming like the Albright TutorDen and the Science Research Institute at Albright College. I’m proud to live, learn, work, and play in Greater Reading, and call Berks County my home.

Adelle L. Schade, MS, Med

Albright College

Director, Science Research Institute

Dean, Pre-College and Summer Programs

Founder of the Science Research Institute (SRI), Adelle Schade is director of Albright SRI and dean of pre-college and summer programs at the college. Previously an instructor at Conrad Weiser High School for more than 24 years, Schade holds a Bachelor of Science degree from West Chester University in health and physical education, a Master of Education degree from Kutztown University in biology education and a Master of Science degree in microbiology from the Jefferson Graduate School of Biomedical Science. She is a currently a University of the Sciences doctoral candidate in cell and molecular biology.

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