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New AU Tutoring Corps Supporting Families During Pandemic

Federal Work Study Students virtually tutoring children of AU employees

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AU Senior Media Relations Manager Sandra Rodriguez discovered AU’s new Virtual Tutoring Corps at the perfect time, just as she was looking for a tutor to help her nine-year-old son with math.

“Just like many working families, we are struggling with virtual learning with our son and trying to work full time,” Rodriguez says. “There are concepts that in a normal setting would have been easier for him to understand, but with virtual learning, it has been incredibly hard, and hard for us to help him with as well. While his teachers are working hard and trying their best, we realized that he needed additional one-on-one support in math. So, when the opportunity came across my inbox, I signed up immediately!”

Rodriguez and her family are not alone. The Covid-19 pandemic has put enormous strains on families as they juggle work, childcare, and school. Nearly 9 in 10 parents worry about their children falling behind academically due to coronavirus-related school closures, according to the latest Education Trust survey.

As an institution dedicated to education and public service, American University wanted to help. Inspired by an example set in New York City, it formed a university-wide Virtual Tutoring Corps of nearly 100 Federal Work Study (FWS) students to tutor the K-12 children of full-time AU faculty and staff. The Work Study students are paid $15 an hour, but none of that cost is borne by the families.

Max Paul Friedman, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, first came up with the idea of the AU Virtual Tutoring Corps after reading about a similar program at New York’s Barnard College. “And I thought, brilliant!” says Friedman. “I asked around and learned there were many AU students with FWS awards but no work because so many on-campus jobs are canceled right now.”

Friedman spoke with offices across campus – Provost, Financial Aid, Human Resources, Campus Life, General Counsel, School of Education, Career Center, Health and Safety – and found many partners willing to help. In no time at all, the Corps was up and running and accepting nearly 100 applications from AU employees looking for tutoring assistance for their children. “I love when things work!” Friedman says.

Zakia Charfi in AU’s Child Development Center is managing the Virtual Tutoring Corps. She says the program is still accepting applications from FWS students on a rolling basis, and she strongly encourages students to apply online. For more information, students can email virtualtutoringcorps@american.edu.

More Fun Than School

The Virtual Tutoring Corps is a winning solution for everyone. It provides pay and a meaningful teaching experience for AU students, interactive learning assistance for children, and a break from child supervision for AU employees while schools are closed.

As for Rodriguez, she is looking forward to a full semester of tutoring for Javier with AU student Mumina Ali (BA justice, law and criminology ’23). “We hope this will help reinforce what he’s learning in school and hopefully even get him ahead, as he’s been virtual for almost year. We’re really thankful that AU is providing this opportunity,” she says.

For nine-year-old Javier, the Corps program is a great success so far. After his very first session, he told his parents, “Tutoring is more fun than school!”

AU Students: A Rewarding Experience

Shannon Sundry is a first-year CAS student who is intending to focus her studies at AU on women’s psychology. For the Corps, she is tutoring second grade reading/writing and comprehension.

Connecting with children and giving back has been fulfilling to Sundry. “I remember having older students teach me when I was little, and it’s neat to be on the opposite end,” she says. “My mom is a kindergarten teacher so I’m pretty familiar with all of the material we’re covering, so having a common source to bond over with my student has made the sessions much more fun. Likewise, my student’s favorite book series was also my favorite book series when I was his age, so it’s really neat to almost relive that experience in a sense.”

Jamie Lapierre (BA musical theatre ’24) is tutoring reading and math for a student in a gifted program. “So far, it has been a lot of fun. I love interacting with my student and being able to watch him grow academically," she says. “Seeing his face light up when he gets an answer correct, makes it all worth it.”

Rolling Admission for Tutors

The Career Center will work carefully to match tutors with children based on subject area and schedules.

It’s a winning situation for both students and employees, says Ann Joiner, an executive director in AU’s Office of Human Resources. “The program is a wonderful work opportunity for our students, where they can hone their tutoring skills and provide a much appreciated service to the children of our faculty and staff.”

Student tutors must pass a background check and take tutor training created by AU School of Education faculty members. They will provide up to four hours a week of virtual tutoring across all subjects, plus one hour of paid prep time, offering one-on-one assistance on homework assignments, course material, and other areas of academic need in coordination with the AU faculty or staff member to whose child they are assigned.

To apply, or for more information, visit the online registration site or email virtualtutoringcorps@american.edu.