As some D65 students lean on tutors during online school, access could widen the achievement gap

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Daily file illustration by Carly Schulman

Some Evanston/Skokie School District 65 parents have been looking for tutors to supplement their children’s education during online learning, but tutoring is not an option for everyone.

Laya Neelakandan, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Almost a year into virtual learning, some Evanston/Skokie School District 65 parents have sought out tutors to keep their students from falling behind. Some leaders say disparities in access to tutoring during online learning could widen the academic achievement gap.

When District 65 closed in Mar. 2020, parent Christian Ruzich said the shift affected his two children differently. Ruzich said his oldest child, a junior in high school, was able to quickly adapt and is “thriving” in a virtual setting, but his younger child, an eighth grader, is struggling with the lack of structure.

“When they had trouble, they weren’t able to go to a teacher for help or use the school’s supports like they would have been able to if they were going in-person,” Ruzich said.

So Ruzich turned to other parents in the district, posting in the District 65 parents Facebook group to find a math tutor. Since the tutoring sessions started, he said his eighth grader’s confidence has increased “by leaps and bounds” in topics they previously struggled with. Ruzich said they plan on continuing tutoring even after a complete return to in-person instruction.

Peter Swanson, a math tutor for middle school students in the district, said his clients have been struggling to adapt to the new form of learning in an online environment.

“Online school presents a lot more difficulties than kids are used to,” Swanson said. “(Online tutoring) has been difficult with trying to show them how to solve problems with all the steps.”

Swanson said he has had to navigate video conferencing connectivity issues, but he has also seen his students’ test scores rise since he started working with them.

District 65 parent Lara Vaive first hired a math tutor for her children last year. While in-person tutoring sessions were easier for her children to engage in, virtual tutoring still helps clarify challenging concepts from class.

“This tutor has a really good way of reframing the concept and explaining the concept in other ways until she sees a lightbulb go off,” Vaive said. “It helps when they grasp a concept because it builds their confidence.”

But Ndona Muboyayi, a candidate for the District 65 school board, said tutoring isn’t an option for families who cannot afford it. Muboyayi said the gap between those who can access tutoring and those who cannot will affect the children’s future academic success.

The pandemic has also dealt a disproportionate blow to marginalized students, who have had to deal with job losses, deaths of loved ones and an overall lack of resources at higher rates during the pandemic. Muboyayi said it’s crucial to understand how this trauma affects academic performance.

Ahead of District 65’s Feb. 16 hybrid learning launch, Muboyayi said the district needs to be equipped to support these students.

“Unfortunately, there are going to be extreme ramifications as a result of the pandemic and e-learning,” Muboyayi said. “We have a great need for academic support (for these communities)… the support right now is sporadic at best.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @laya_neel

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