Six months with no school due to COVID-19 may mean marginalized and vulnerable students will be behind their peers once classes resume.
To offset this threat, the Faculty of Education, London Community Foundation, London & Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH), the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre and the COVID Response Fund Advisory Council have stepped in to help.
These organizations partnered on a pilot project that tutored vulnerable students.
Chair of the London Community Foundation COVID Response Council, Helen Connell, said the tutoring program was created after conversations with local school boards, who identified a need for education support for vulnerable youth and children. These children also didn’t have the same opportunities as their peers to learn through computers, which has increased their risk of falling further behind their classmates.
“We were seeing a trend around education about how disproportionately our most marginalized youth and children in the City of London were being impacted by COVID,” added Vanessa Dolishny, Director of Communications of the London Community Foundation. “They weren’t having access to the same educational supports.”
Teacher candidates from the Faculty of Education volunteered to participate in the program, which was held at a LMCH housing complex in southeast London. There were three sessions with teacher candidates tutoring 30-40 students each day.
“I decided to get involved because this is a community that needs help and they’ve been out of school for so long that we want to be able to bridge that gap so that they’re not further behind than others,” said year two teacher candidate, Sarah CoDyre.
Students weren’t the only ones learning during the pilot project – it was also an educational experience for teacher candidates. CoDyre learned flexibility because adapting to whatever came up during the day was a key to success and she wasn’t sure how many students would show up each day. She also felt tutoring improved her classroom management skills.
“I’ve learned to be able to differentiate because students aren’t on the same level,” she said. “It’s taught me how to differentiate my lessons to meet the students where they are and help them get to where they need to be.”
The teacher candidates were under the supervision of certified or retired teachers and their volunteerism could count towards their practicum requirements for their degree.
The teacher candidates worked within the housing complex but not in children’s homes. A huge tent was set up, giving children and teacher candidates plenty of space to work, ensuring the tutoring was done in compliance with COVID health regulations.
The program, which ran during August, focused on 172 families and approximately 200 children. Teacher candidates had the unique experience of getting to know students in their home setting.
“Teachers don’t get that. They welcome kids into their (school) building but the community welcomed us into their site,” said Practicum and Community Engagement Coordinator for the Faculty of Education, Joanne Lombardi. “That is what teachers are not used to and I think that’s really rich.”
The program was funded through a $50,000 grant from the London Community Foundation COVID-19 Responses Fund Council, which is a collaboration between the London Community Foundation, the Lawson Foundation and the Westminster College Foundation.
While the pilot project has wrapped up, Connell said there could be other opportunities when school resumes to continue collaboration between vulnerable students, community organizations and the Faculty of Education. Right now, they’re determining the needs of the children and teacher candidates for the new school year.