Education student creates tutoring program for K-12 students in Austin area

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Photo Credit: Rocky Higine | Daily Texan Staff

For Alexa Cumming, a break from her Zoom class usually looks like scrolling through her Twitter feed. But for the elementary school students she tutors, it might involve running laps around the house. 

Cumming, a speech, language and hearing sciences freshman, is a tutor with The Texas Learning Pod, a tutoring service that connects UT students with K-12 students in the Austin area. 

Education junior Natalie Ward started the service in July after she noticed more parents on Facebook looking for tutors rather than babysitters. She said almost 150 families contacted her when she offered tutoring services. Unable to take on every family, she started The Texas Learning Pod.

“I think it's great that (we’re) able to help these families,” Ward said. “A lot of (the kids) are elementary school-aged, and that's (an) important time in (their) education. A lot of people see it as glorified daycare, but that's when (kids) develop the most.”

On Sept. 1, the Austin Independent School District announced their reopening plan. It will start with remote learning for the first four weeks of instruction, and after then families can choose to send their child back to school for in-person instruction. 

Ward said around 180 UT students applied to tutor, but because of scheduling differences, she only matched 50 students to 50 families. Payment varies based on the number of kids in a home. Tutors get paid around $16 to $20 hourly and receive 80% of the profit. Ward gets the remaining 20%. 

When the tutor is first matched to a family, they coordinate with the parents to set a tutoring schedule and mutual agreement on COVID-19 guidelines. While the parents are typically at work, tutors work with their client’s kids one-on-one at the family home. 

To give the tutoring sessions more of a classroom feel, Ward said she offers tutors lesson plans with hands-on activities such as science experiments. 

“Online school for these kids is just sitting in front of a computer and listening to the teacher talk,” Ward said. “It's really important for kids to also be able to touch something and see if they can make it work.”

Education junior Caroline Campbell said she found out about The Texas Learning Pod through Ward. She said this is her first job teaching and tutoring kids. 

“I was a little nervous going in but also confident because this is what I want to do for my career,” Campbell said. “I looked back at my notes from previous classes and talked to my parents and grandparents because they are also educators.” 

Campbell said she did a science experiment with her students using an ice cube and water to teach them about solids, liquids and gasses. 

“They were really into that and told me they wanted to do a blowing up experiment sometime, so I've been trying to come up with a fun experiment for them to do,” Campbell said. 

Cumming heard about The Texas Learning Pod through a Facebook group. She said the first and second graders she tutors are immunocompromised and will not be going to school this year.

“I have been wearing my mask and following (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, so (I) haven’t had any issues with (COVID-19), but I have been more careful about where I go because of (the students),” Cumming said. 

Cumming said she hopes to make learning enjoyable for the kids even in these unusual circumstances. 

“They're both really bright kids,” Cumming said. “I want them to realize that learning is interesting and fun, and it's not always as frustrating as it seems right now.”