University students volunteer to help K-12 kids struggling in pandemic

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‘We are students too, we’ve been learning online for over a year, and we watched our younger siblings learn online, going back and forth. We know what the challenges are’

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A small group of university students volunteering to tutor K-12 kids wants to expand its ranks for next fall as younger students face multiple learning challenges during the disruptions of COVID and online learning.

Connect Tutoring is a volunteer tutoring service created by Melia Alcantara and a corps of volunteers at the University of Calgary, wanting to support younger kids that were facing the same struggles as them with online learning and a lack of one-on-one teacher support.

“We are students, too; we’ve been learning online for over a year, and we watched our younger siblings learn online, going back and forth. We know what the challenges are,” said Alcantara, who just graduated from U of C and is now pursuing graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal.

“Students are having a really hard time getting one-on-one help; they’re getting much less face-to-face time or they are nervous to ask questions in an online platform.

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“We are finding math is where we are seeing the most trouble for kids. Because normally, with in-person learning, a teacher can help with each piece of a problem, and help work through small steps. But that is much harder to do online.”

Alcantara and her small group of volunteer co-ordinators have recruited up to 25 volunteer tutors at the U of C over the past year, targeting local K-12 students in low- to middle-income families, and are looking to grow to more than 50 tutors by next fall.

Felicia Deng, a third-year Health Sciences student at U of C, has been working closely with a Grade 5/6 student during the pandemic, addressing all subject areas.

“It’s been very rewarding. During the pandemic, social interaction I think has been so important for all of us. But being able to work one-on-one with a student, being able to engage, and help them work through problems has been really great.”

Deng said her student has required support in all subject areas, particularly English, social studies and math. She said she’s been trying to teach her student to empower themselves more than anything, along with teaching skills in Internet research, problem solving and finding other types of online supports through YouTube or math games.

“I’m trying to challenge the student to think of different strategies when approaching a problem — trying to think in abstract terms, identifying what is known and then searching for unknowns.”

Parents have found the free tutoring service to be a godsend at a time when their kids are facing so much adversity.

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“Before COVID, my daughter always struggled with math. She’s always had to break things down, take it a little slower,” said one parent, Lucy, whose last name isn’t being used to protect the privacy of her daughter.

“But this tutoring program has really given her a lot of confidence, like she can do the work, and she’s had a great coach beside her, encouraging her and giving her that opportunity to really practice.”

Lucy added that tutoring has also been helpful for social reasons, at a time when so many young people have been encouraged to stay at home.

“It’s been great just for her to see another face, even if it’s online, because the pandemic has made it so hard for her to see her friends.”

Lucy, whose daughter will start Grade 10 this fall in the Calgary Catholic School District, said she was so relieved to find tutors, at no cost, to help her daughter better prepare for the all-important transition to high school.

Anyone interested in accessing free tutoring, or wanting to help as a volunteer for Connect Tutoring, can fill out their online form at

[email protected]


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