In fall 2020, not long after the College pivoted to virtual teaching and learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 30 Barnard students joined the College’s new Virtual Tutoring Corps. In this role, they had the chance to implement what they learned as students in a pilot program that connects current students with the K-12 children of faculty and staff. Now, that program’s success is being replicated by other institutions.
"From the beginning of the academic year, we felt it was important to support families who have K-12 students at home,” said A-J Aronstein, dean of Beyond Barnard, who manages the program. “It has been so challenging for our colleagues to teach and work at home while also caring for kids enrolled in virtual school. The Virtual Tutoring Corps aimed to create a cohort of students who could help give parents a break while also giving kids the chance to connect with amazing Barnard role models.”
Once launched by Beyond Barnard — in collaboration with the Office of the Provost, Dean of the College Division, and Human Resources — the program doubled as a work-study opportunity for the corps’ student participants. “The Virtual Tutoring Corps’ first year has really been a win for Barnard students, as well as for faculty, staff, and their children,” said Aronstein. “It provides undergraduates with valuable teaching experiences and an opportunity to work virtually. And it also connects Barnard students with faculty and staff across disciplines and offices that they might not have met.”
In the short time that the Virtual Tutoring Corps has been in existence, it’s been a great success. During the 2020-21 academic year, Barnard students assisted children ages 5-16 across a variety of subjects, including reading, math, science, the arts, and more. “Our 10th grader had a tutor for the fall, and the one-on-one helped him to get a solid grounding in his history and English classes when they were online,” said Brian Mailloux, department co-chair and professor of environmental science.
Other institutions, such as American University and Clemson University, have taken notice and launched their own virtual tutoring programs. “Barnard’s program inspired us to set up a Virtual Tutoring Corps of our own,” said Max Paul Friedman, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University. “With A-J’s help, we had it up and running in time for the spring semester. We just surveyed the parents, and they used words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘magnificent’ to describe the tutors and the impact of the program on their families’ quality of life — from children going from struggling in some subjects to earning A’s, or alienated teenagers looking forward each day to connecting with fun and smart AU students, to helping harried parents with work-life balance. In a survey, 91% of parents and tutors said they would like the program to continue even after schools are open.”
Clemson University, which filled more than 70 tutoring requests from dozens of parents, confirmed that 94% of respondents reported being either “extremely pleased” or “somewhat pleased” with the program, with nearly 90% stating that their needs and the needs of their children were met by highly knowledgeable and adaptable tutors. As a result, parents told Clemson they would like to continue with the program throughout the year.
“When I heard about the tutor program from Barnard College president Sian Leah Beilock at a webinar I was attending, I knew this would be perfect for Clemson,” said Margaret B. Ptacek, Clemson’s director of biological sciences. “Having tutored my goddaughter in 8th grade math last fall, I knew what a struggle parents were having helping their schoolchildren to not fall behind as a result of COVID interruptions to learning. We also were employing far fewer FWS students at Clemson last year, as many offices were closed on campus, and staff were working from home. As director of our TIGERS Advance program, I knew that caregivers — often women — were really struggling with work and home commitments. Modeling a tutoring program after Barnard’s program seemed like a perfect solution to help our employees and our FWS-eligible undergraduates.”
See below for personal feedback on the program:
“Simply put, our virtual tutors have helped me as much as they have helped my son, Kannon. He is an only child and also has autism. His school has been fully remote since March 13, 2020, and will be through June 2021. He is in 7th grade, so it is a big year in terms of grades for high school admissions. Dipashreya and Neha not only relieved the daily battle of checking homework and developing study habits, while I was juggling Zoom meetings, they provided a needed human connection and gave him a much-needed perspective during a very challenging and lonely time.” — Allison Mayne Peters, Chief of Staff, Development and Alumnae Relations
“For a new person to Barnard — I started in fall 2019 — this program really demonstrated the holistic care the College provides for its employees and their families: Feel Well, Do Well in practice! As a first grader, my daughter is learning to read, and Leanne has made it such an exciting endeavor. Leanne took it upon herself to send me weekly summaries of what they read, the words and topics they discussed, and the exercises they completed. She has even created a Google doc with a list of new words such as ‘indelible’ and ‘translucent’ that Olive enjoys sharing with me.” — Jennifer Rosales, Executive Director, Center for Engaged Pedagogy
“I have really enjoyed tutoring Kannon, four days a week, the past few months. Each weekday we check in on how our days are going, strategize on which work to get done first, and then complete the assignments. On the days when Kannon finishes his work early, we typically end up chatting about current events, local train stations, or what his cats are up to. Tutoring Kannon has not only motivated me to pursue my own academic endeavors but has also provided me with a new friend during this isolating time.” — Dipashreya Sur ’23
Clemson faculty and staff parents
- “Our daughter received the most improved math award the last nine weeks, I believe due in part to our tutor’s dedicated efforts to tutoring her. This has been the best perk Clemson has offered to faculty, so thank you.”
- “Tutoring greatly improved their reading, comprehension, and knowledge of sciences as evidenced by their school quarterly test results.”
- “Our tutor ended up mostly tutoring my son in geometry, which is the subject he has been struggling most with. She was very knowledgeable in this subject.”
Learn more about Barnard’s pilot program by visiting the Virtual Tutoring Corps page here.