How Bellarmine University and USI came together to support students during COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to abrupt closures of schools, universities, and colleges. As a result, many governments decided to temporarily close educational institutions in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), the primary provider of public education in Louisville KY, was no exception to the rule and has resorted to non-traditional instruction (or NTI, where classes are held virtually) as a means of keeping students and school staff safe and learning.
NTIs and Beecher Terrace Residents
NTI began for JCPS students in March of 2020, and while teachers have begun receiving the vaccine, it will continue for an indefinite duration.
THERE HAS BEEN A 146% INCREASE IN FAILING GRADES SINCE THIS TIME LAST YEAR, AND OUR BEECHER TERRACE FAMILIES/YOUTH HAVE BEEN HIT ESPECIALLY HARD.
Many of our school-age youth were already behind in their core academic subjects; the pandemic has exacerbated this issue due to the digital divide, mental health and wellness, a lack of 1-1 assistance, and increased familial stressors such as working parents not always able to help due to their schedule or are unfamiliar with the content. With all of this under consideration, USI Louisville’s Education Specialist Beth knew it was in her authority to find and connect Beecher Terrace students to any and all resources that could help them to be academically successful.
Overcoming Barriers to Educational Support
In response to the implementation of NTI, several “hubs” or “camps” opened in Louisville, aiming to provide in-person childcare and academic assistance. Beth did what she could to enroll Beecher Terrace youth in these programs, but a lot of barriers (such as work schedules, high cost, lack of transportation, or concern about COVID-19 transmission) prevented Beecher Terrace families from being able to consistently participate. She could hear the exhaustion in the voices of her parents; they were desperate for their children to receive help and were doing the best they could under their current circumstances. Parents expressed the need for patient, experienced individuals that could get them back on track—it was time to get creative.
Beth had already been in contact with, Liz Byron, who works in their Center for Community Engagement at Bellarmine University, to discuss securing slots for Beecher high-school students interested in a free mentoring opportunity. Using this connection, she shared the concerns of Beecher Terrace parents who have school-age youth; parents who expressed the need for flexible, quality, out-of-school assistance so their children could be successful in their academic endeavors. And between Beth and Liz’s collaboration, that’s where the Bellarmine RISE program began.
“My tutor is nice and helps me to read better. We both like music and my favorite time was when she let me sing for her.” – A Beecher Terrace 3rd grade student (name omitted upon the parent’s request)
“I really like my tutor because she listens to me and shows me new ways of doing things, which helps me to understand my assignments better. She taught me about the life-cycle of a butterfly which I thought was really cool.” – A Beecher Terrace 6th grade student (name omitted upon the parent’s request)
The Bellarmine RISE Program
The Bellarmine RISE program is currently comprised of 25 current college students; some are participating in this program for college credit, some for-service learning hours, and some as volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of children who otherwise might not have access to such an opportunity. This diverse group of individuals is able to teach a variety of subjects and work with the parents in scheduling. Many are education majors and/or have prior experience working with children, with some being trained in reading interventionists and/or special education.
With each family and scholar’s specific needs in mind, the tutors were meticulously paired with children who would most benefit, and our families couldn’t be happier.
“This [program] is awesome, and I like that it is on the computer so I know my kids will be safe. I also like how flexible the scheduling is so I can be there with them after work. Thank you so much!” – Beecher Terrace parent, Ms. L (name abridged for privacy), who has four children participating.
SINCE ITS INCEPTION, 80% OF OUR YOUTH HAVE BEEN REGULARLY ATTENDING AND ARE MAKING STEADY PROGRESS IN THEIR CORE SUBJECTS.
Each student is allotted two hours per week, and all their progress is recorded in session notes. The tutors have built an excellent rapport with our families, many of which look forward to their sessions; the parents feel very relieved to have the help, and the youth are excited and enthusiastic about getting this specialized, 1:1 attention.
“Participating in this program has been wonderful! I love how comfortable the tutors are in working with my kids – they are able to get on their level and help them to complete all of their assignments. I can tell that Ms. Beth and the tutors truly enjoy working with others and helping people. They have gone above and beyond by taking time out of their lives to help with whatever, whenever. You can tell they want to be there and are opening my children’s eyes up to new experiences instead of making them feel bad about what they don’t know. I want my children to know that it is okay to ask for help so they may grow up knowing they are capable of anything they put their mind to.” – Beecher Terrace parent, Ms. Janice Coleman, who has two of her daughters enrolled.
Tutoring for Beecher Terrace Students Post COVID-19 and Beyond
Bellarmine University, Beth, and the rest of the USI Louisville staff hope to continue this tutoring program even after the COVID-19 restrictions lift. Currently, all students meet with their tutors virtually. But once restrictions are lifted, they can finally meet their tutors in person.