Mizzou tutoring helps bridge gap for homebound students

  • Published: Thursday, April 30, 2020

COLUMBIA, Mo. – “Oh no! The kids are going to need us now more than ever. How are we going to help them?”

That’s the first thought that raced through McKinzie Duesenberg’s mind in mid-March upon hearing that the University of Missouri would close due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Duesenberg is a co-director of the MU Career Center’s A Way With Words and Numbers (AWWWN), a tutoring service that teams MU students with local children.

The program’s 110 MU undergraduates and 14 graduate assistants serve as many as 2,500 students a year in 13 Columbia public schools. Tutors work with classroom teachers to provide individualized literacy interventions and help with one-on-one lessons, small-group projects and homework. They also offer after-school tutoring Mondays through Thursdays at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

All that came to an abrupt halt in March as the library, public schools and Mizzou anounced they would suspend in-person learning and services and move online.

“There was no question: I wanted to help as many Mizzou students as we could continue in their work-study program while serving this crucial community need, ” said Robert McDaniels, MU Career Center director.

McDaniels and AWWWN co-directors Duesenberg, Claire Nolan and Kelli Russell coordinated with schools and teachers and swiftly got out information about online tutoring options, even as they were still building the capacity to do so.

Columbia Public Schools closed March 18. AWWWN scheduled its first online tutoring session the very next day.

Now, more than 100 students regularly attend one of the four or five half-hour sessions offered each day, with more signing up through May 15, when the program is scheduled to end for the school year.

The suspension of face-to-face support was a particular challenge for English language learners, said Victoria Finn, a graduate student in MU’s school counseling program. “Their families don’t want children to regress in their English skills during this time, so we are reading a lot with them, working on vocabulary and conversation skills, helping parents with math packets, and focusing on the needs of the community one student at a time.”

Thanks to the online tutoring, Sungju Kim’s fourth- and sixth-grade children are staying up to speed on their reading and vocabulary. They had been attending AWWWN sessions at the library since October 2018. “There are not many opportunities for children to talk to other people [in English] than the teachers and friends they meet at school,” Kim wrote in an email. “It was good to be able to safely tutor by doing online tutoring. Also, tutoring was originally twice a week, but I was grateful for the opportunity to do it every day.”

The response has been so positive that the AWWWN team will explore continuing the online component even after face-to-face options at the library and schools resume, Duesenberg said.

“We just hope families are getting as much out of this as we are!” she said.

In addition to its free tutoring for Columbia public school students, the MU College of Education provides fee-based online courses through the Mizzou Academy, a fully accredited online school that provides educational programming to middle and high school students. Students may take a course or two to supplement or enrich their educational path, or they may choose to complete their high school diplomas with Mizzou Academy. Coursework is self-paced, giving students the opportunity to complete courses in two to six months. All high school coursework aligns with state graduation requirements. More information is available at MizzouAcademy.missouri.edu.

Photo available for this release:

Site coordinator Morgan Lazar powers through one of five half-hour morning tutoring sessions in a row.

Writer: Katherine Foran

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