From kindergarten classrooms to college auditoriums and everything in between, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every level of education. Remote learning, technology challenges, in-person limitations and more have altered the common structure of teaching.
Seeing a void of education resources for students both young and old, two IUPUI entities partnered to empower Jaguars and younger students statewide. The IU School of Education at IUPUI partnered with Student Success Corps, a program based in IUPUI's Office of Community Engagement in which college students provide free tutoring and mentoring for students in grades six through 12.
With schools closed to outside visitors because of the pandemic, the School of Education was looking for ways its future teachers could gain field and clinical experience and practice one-on-one instruction with students. Student Success Corps needed additional resources due to an increased demand for its tutoring and mentoring services statewide.
Before the pandemic, Student Success Corps was serving 2,500 students. Because of the increased need for tutoring and mentoring, over 3,800 students across the state are now program participants. Together, the School of Education's student interns are helping bolster the Student Success Corps' mentors' work and services.
"It really has allowed us as a program to be able to meet the needs of the families statewide," said Kayla Nunnally, one of the co-leaders of Student Success Corps and program manager of tutoring, mentoring, and college and career programming. "But then, of course, the mentors and interns are also getting their experience. It truly has been a mutually beneficial collaboration."
Nunnally, along with Nicole Oglesby, oversees Student Success Corps. The program is open to any IUPUI student, regardless of major. Previously providing only in-person tutoring and mentoring services at schools and community centers, Student Success Corps utilized a 2016 Serve Indiana grant to expand to six other IU schools and create the ability to provide online services. The established program, which receives inquiries from students throughout Indiana looking for tutoring assistance, was ready to ramp up its offerings with more assistance when the pandemic hit.
The School of Education's involvement increased Student Success Corps' capability to reach elementary students with the start of the fall 2020 semester, and they together now serve a full range of K-12 students.
Clinical associate professor Monica Medina oversees the secondary education program's involvement and frequently monitors the Tuesday-through-Thursday evening sessions. She has aimed to get as many math, English and social studies tutors working in the partnership as possible.
"It made sense to connect and work together," Medina said. "Magically, it has worked out well."
Associate professor Craig Willey, who oversees the elementary education program's involvement, offers four separate time blocks throughout the week for his future teachers to be available for elementary schools in Indianapolis to help with students' questions.
Willey said this partnership with Student Success Corps is crucial to developing teachers because it gives them opportunities to directly interact with children and engage in learning opportunities that a book doesn't provide. Additionally, he appreciates that the future teachers are able to witness how schools are complex institutions, especially urban schools. They are introduced to some of the challenges these institutions encounter and are directly impacting students.
"It's a mutually beneficial relationship instead of us just taking and taking," Willey said. "It's really easy for the School of Education to focus on the development of teachers because that's an important thing to focus on. But there are schools out there with needs we can also help with."
Sessions between Student Success Corps mentors and/or School of Education interns with K-12 students are held via Microsoft Teams or Zoom, with the camera turned off on both sides because of safety and privacy concerns. The mentors and interns have digitizers to show work, are able to audibly chat with the students, and can review questions and assignments from emailed pictures or screen-sharing.
Because of the communication hurdles, it can be tough to tell if a student is grasping the instruction. Destinie Hutchinson, an elementary education major, has used online games to try and connect with students in a fun way.
"It was hard to get some of them engaged -- but for the ones who were very engaged, it was clear they were getting it and grasping what I what saying," she said. "It's a nice feeling when you're able to tell that the lightbulb is going off just from their voice."
Students in the program discuss tips in a group chat, share TikTok videos of how other teachers are doing virtual instruction and bounce ideas off each other. As anyone who has experienced communication via these virtual platforms knows, the impact and success of the speaker's message can be hard to gauge. This situation has required the future teachers to be innovative, intuitive and locked in.
"It's been hard and challenging, but I appreciate how it's preparing me for my first year of teaching next year," Hutchinson said. "This is what's going to be thrown at me, and I'm really glad I get the opportunity to figure it out and navigate it now."
Hutchinson was in the elementary education program before the pandemic and was able to experience traditional field and clinical opportunities. Having seen both sides of the program, she's thankful for the faculty's work in making this partnership happen so that they are able to gain this valuable experience.
"All the students recognize how hard the School of Education has worked to give us these opportunities to work with students, and we are very grateful," Hutchinson said.
IUPUI's future teachers are gaining clinical experience that they could have missed out on, and Indiana's K-12 students have a resource that's ready to help.
"This program is a success," Oglesby said. "Because we were able to pilot this program, I believe we have advanced efforts in reimaging education from a K-through-16 perspective for the future."