UWM students help youngsters by tutoring online

Alissa Ramczyk takes time out from her own online academic work to help four second-graders with their class work.

“It gives me a break from my schoolwork, and it’s really great to be able to see the students I was working with before and help them through this pandemic,” said the UWM junior.

Ramczyk is one of more than 35 students from UWM who are part of an online tutoring project through the university’s Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research, according to Benjamin Trager, the center’s director of community-based learning. Ramczyk is an intern in the center’s community leaders internship program.

The UWM students are part of a statewide tutoring effort developed by Bola Delano-Oriaran, associate professor of education at St. Norbert College, and Marguerite Penick-Parks, professor of educational leadership and policy at UW-Oshkosh.

Helping students transition to online

The goal is to help families across the country get the support they need to help their children transition to online learning, while also giving college students, especially those in education, field experience. More than 900 requests for tutors have come in to the group, which now includes a number of schools and colleges across the state, according to Trager.

The UWM students are connected with families both locally and nationally, helping tutor in a variety of subjects for students from kindergarten through high school, Trager said.

Currently the UWM tutors are students from the Teaching and Learning Department in the School of Education and the center’s Community Leaders Internship Program. The tutors have committed to taking on at least two students and to meeting with each student twice a week, according to Trager.

Many are education students, but others, like Ramczyk, come from other areas. She’s an occupational studies major who started tutoring the second-graders at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary in Milwaukee during the fall semester as a work-study student.

Ramczyk’s career goal is to work with children with disabilities in a school-based setting, she said, so working with second-graders is giving her some experience with young children. “It’s been a long time since I was a second-grader,” she said with a laugh.

School facing challenges

Like many Milwaukee public schools, Oliver Wendell Holmes has faced some challenges in moving students to online learning.  Many students didn’t have computers or tablets at home, and others didn’t have internet access. Ramczyk has worked closely with the classroom teacher, Sara Gitzlaff, to start tutoring, working with four students who had the technology to do online learning right away.

It’s been a struggle to get the online learning going for all 31 of her students, Gitzlaff said. The school distributed Chromebooks to families who responded to a survey, but it’s been difficult reaching other families. “A lot of them are worried about having basic necessities like food,” said Gitzlaff. Having Ramczyk to continue tutoring helps a lot.
“We’re at different levels for our kids, and we don’t have everybody on the same page yet, but I think the support she’s giving to the kids she’s tutoring is perfect,” Gitzlaff said.

Gitzlaff and Ramczyk communicate regularly about the students and the transition to virtual learning.

“We kind of bounce ideas off each other, and we’re trying to figure out the whole technology thing together,” Gitzlaff said. “It’s trial and error situation. If she figures out something or I figure out, we share what we’ve learned.” Ramczyk has found some online games and activities that they incorporate into the virtual learning.

‘She’s great’

Before the transition to online learning, Ramczyk was tutoring at the school two half days and one full day a week, working with an advanced reading group to challenge them with more complex lessons, helping out with the numerous classroom chores as needed and partnering with students who were struggling to stay focused.

“She did a lot of work with kids who had trouble concentrating or kids with social-emotional needs that just need a break or to have someone to sit with them and keep them on track,” said Gitzlaff.  “She would never ask, ‘What do you need me to do?’ She was already doing it. She’s great.”

Ramczyk originally chose to do her leaders internship at the school because it was close to campus, but she’s grown to love the work and is glad she’s able to tutor to keep in touch with the students.

“I definitely miss all the students that I worked with at the school face to face,” she said. “I just enjoy being able to work with just a few of them even a few hours a week. It’s challenging, but it’s also rewarding – I absolutely love it.”

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