Tutoring Across Distance

An MPUSD student prepares for distance learning

An MPUSD student prepares for distance learning

November 10, 2020

By Walter Ryce

Service Learning Institute finds a way to deliver tutoring to local K-12 kids

Before sheltering-in-place restrictions due to COVID-19, CSUMB’s Service Learning Institute (SLI) placed about 500 students in local schools every semester to provide tutoring. But since instruction moved online and school districts lost the ability to monitor and control interactions, K-12 officials have been reluctant to allow online tutoring due to liability concerns.

“This has been a huge stumbling block for universities across the country,” said Seth Pollack, director of SLI. “Everybody wants to avoid the potential liability of having college students working online with youth unsupervised.”

Also, with the transition to distance learning, teachers, principals and administrators have been overwhelmed with the logistical upheavals.

“They have had so much on their plate just trying to run their own schools, that the question of partnering with CSUMB and figuring out how to bring some college students into this crazy puzzle of moving pieces and online learning challenges was not a high priority,” Pollack said.

But in July and August, as schools learned to cope with distance instruction, SLI and the College of Education began working with representatives from the Monterey County Office of Education as well as individual school districts to conceive a way to continue the tutoring while addressing their liability concerns.

Under an amended MOU, CSUMB and Monterey County school districts have agreed to the necessary steps. Service Learning students register for the program, and can express their school or district preferences, availability and interests. Then they have to complete a pre-service tutor training program in Canvas, a Live Scan background check, and mandated reporter training from the California Dept. of Social Services. A field placement coordinator then matches them with a specific school and teacher.

“The coordinators have been key in building relationships with district and school leaders, talking with teachers, setting up schedules, figuring out what will work, and of course, problem-solving with students,” Pollack said.

The service learner works with the K-12 teacher, learning about the class and the expectations, and partnering on how to best augment the curriculum.

The school teachers identify the subjects in which each child needs tutoring help, as well as the time in which tutoring can happen — whether during class with teachers or after school doing homework help and wellness check-ins. In either case, it’s digitally streamed.

If it’s after school, families must fill out a permission slip, and sessions may be recorded for security. In accordance with the so-called “Rule of Threes,” there are always two tutors working as a team, and no one-on-one interaction or communication is allowed.

Additionally, there are rules about identifying kids by name: “Do not use the [children’s] real names in your class assignment. Rather, use pseudonyms.”

There are rules about decorum: “You must be dressed appropriately, professionally and sitting upright (i.e. not in bed).”

Having surmounted the risks of pairing kids with young adults in an online environment, the following schools and districts have signed on:

Alisal, Chualar, International School of Monterey, King City, MPUSD, Oasis Charter School, Salinas City Elementary, San Antonio, Spreckels and Washington Union.

Currently, 305 service learning students have been placed, and each one devotes 25-30 hours, including training, to the endeavor.

Additionally, Pollack reports that 24 members of the CSUMB softball team — with support from CSUMB Athletic Director Kirby Garry and Olson Elementary Principal Drew Coleman — are doing their own partnering with Olsen Elementary in the "Olsen Otter Tutor Buddies Program,” working in teams and reading with Olsen kids twice a week.