COE TUtors provides free, online tutoring to more than 500 Maryland students

Program supports academic needs of local students, provides teacher interns hands-on experience

By Rebecca Kirkman on March 30, 2021

Laura Marsico sits at dining table in front of laptop
Elementary education and special education major Laura Marsico ’22 tutors students in fifth and second grades through the COE TUtors program. (Photo courtesy of Laura Marsico)

After a day of online learning, second- and third-graders Priya and Maya Hill are excited to get on one last Zoom call—an hour of tutoring with two students from Towson University’s College of Education (COE).
“They love it,” says Reshma Sinanan-Hill, whose daughters Priya and Maya attend Overlook Full Spanish Immersion School in Prince George’s County and have been enrolled in the COE TUtors program since fall 2020. “It’s perfect for what we need at this moment to supplement what’s happening in the classroom.”
Launched in the fall, COE TUtors is a free, online tutoring program for Pre-kindergarten–12 students that meets the needs of TU education students as well as families throughout the state.
The program matches students with pairs of TU teacher candidates, who design lessons based on students’ individual needs with support and guidance from faculty members. The tutors employ culturally responsive, evidence-based and provide feedback on student progress weekly.
This spring, more than 500 students throughout Maryland have been matched with TU tutors, an increase from the 350 who participated in the fall 2020 session.
“COE TUtors has allowed our teacher candidates a unique opportunity to teach students across different districts around the state, as well as to communicate directly with caregivers about their children’s learning,” says Laila Richman, associate dean of the College of Education. “Given the positive impact the program has had on both teacher candidates and P–12 students, we plan to continue COE TUtors as a permanent service in the College of Education.”

The program offers a virtual alternative for field experience courses, where undergraduate teacher candidates in their junior year typically spend an hour each week in a Maryland public school classroom observing a mentor teacher.
With the help of Ty Velines, the virtual-based experiences project coordinator for COE, teacher candidates in more than 20 field experience courses are paired up and matched with P–12 students in subjects like literacy, mathematics and English language support.
“In their applications, a lot of parents are saying virtual learning has just been hard for their students. They know that their students will have to sit in front of a screen for tutoring, too, but even having an extra hand and being able to support them on their learning journey is something that they seek,” Velines says.
The online program has the flexibility to adapt to each faculty member’s needs for specific courses, too.
“The instructors for each of these courses have different ideas about how they would like to utilize COE TUtors and how they would like to engage the students that are coming in and being tutored by their interns,” Velines adds.

Screenshot of zoom lesson with the words "what did you learn?"
A screenshot from a tutoring session with students from Woodbridge Elementary School in Baltimore County, one of the College of Education's Professional Development School partners.

Laura Ward, a lecturer in the Department of Elementary Education who teaches five courses with COE TUtors, says the program gives her students the opportunity for more hands-on teaching experience and the chance to get comfortable with new technology.
“When COVID hit, I was so nervous about what the loss of being in the classroom would mean for my students. So it was such a blessing to have this opportunity,” she says. “Our Towson interns are getting practice in writing high-quality lesson plans, putting them into practice and learning to anticipate things that might change as they're teaching. And they're working with a partner, so they're having some peer interaction. I have found it to be so beneficial.” 
So far, the program has had an overwhelming interest from families.
“After things shut down in spring 2020, the school day was very different and parents were eager for any additional learning opportunities,” says Renee Whitby, COE’s partnerships and placements manager.
When the link to register for the first session of COE TUtors was released, it was shared to social media and received 1,100 applications in just 72 hours. 
“When we planned for the second iteration in the spring of 2021, we really wanted to target the kids that were most in need of this service,” Whitby says, adding that the college contacted its professional development school partners and English as a second language (ESL) teachers to reach families directly. Next academic year, the project plans to add two additional components—community liaisons to better connect with families and a website with resources to support families working with their children at home in remote learning environments.
For the spring session, families from underserved populations made up about 50% of the applicants.
The program is funded by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Grant), a federal grant for governors to support and assist educational entities with emergency assistance due to COVID-19. It is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Elementary education and special education major Laura Marsico ’22 currently tutors two small groups of students in fifth and second grades. Participating in COE TUtors has required her to be more flexible, collaborative and engaging with students.
“I am so grateful for this opportunity that Professor Ward and Towson University has given to our class,” Marsico says. “I was really disappointed when I learned that I would not be able to do in-person teaching because of COVID-19. I think this is something very special that I will take with me into my career. I have cherished every moment I have gotten with these students. While being on Zoom and being in person are different experiences, I am very happy that I got the opportunity to work with students these last couple semesters. I think this experience is going to be very valuable to me as I transition into full-time student teaching next semester.”

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