GVSU K-12 tutoring program has helped thousands, continues to grow

Grand Valley's K-12 Connect academic support program continues its steady expansion of services while providing opportunities for college students – most of them from GVSU – to earn valuable experience through tutoring elementary and secondary students.

The program, created in 2020 to address learning loss during the pandemic, is successfully providing the kind of flexible one-on-one tutoring support Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called for to help Michigan students catch up from that disruption, said Amirah Vosburgh, K-12 Connect director.

Vosburgh believes one reason K-12 Connect has been successful is because education professionals are thinking about different ways to provide student support.

"In addition to everything that’s happening in the classroom, what else can we do for students outside of the classroom to support their learning and encourage growth?" Vosburgh said.

A person smiles in a posed photo.
Amirah Vosburgh is the director of K-12 Connect.

When districts contract with K-12 Connect, they receive personalized support where feedback is valuable, Vosburgh said. The primary support offered now is K-9 math and reading remediation, a program using advanced strategies for students who are proficient but would benefit from a challenge, and a homework help program for high school students where the tutors serve more as an academic success coach and mentor.

As K-12 Connect leaders look to continue scaling the program, they are seeking to expand both services outside Michigan and the tutor pool to offer support at the local level while also exploring options for parapros and current/retired educators to tutor a few students at once to reduce costs, Vosburgh said. 

Thousands have benefitted from the program so far:

  • Since June of 2021, K-12 Connect has worked directly with 22 school districts, serving more than 3,000 students in 40 K-12 school buildings.
  • K-12 Connect has hired more than 1,000 college students, and is currently deploying 600; 95% are GVSU students.

Chris O'Brien, director of Student Support Services for Farmington Public Schools, said K-12 Connect provides crucial support for students given staffing resources do not allow for that kind of intensive work beyond the classroom. The array of academic support options for students is also key, he said.

"It’s flexible, so instead of doing it at school, it’s based on the parent’s schedule," O'Brien said. "So we’ve got some kids who do it on Sunday, some Wednesday afternoon, some on Saturday. It meets the needs of the family and we really like that." 

The district started the program with high school students, then expanded to include middle school and elementary students, said O'Brien, who noted one outcome from pandemic learning that benefits students in the program is that they have become accustomed to interacting with someone to learn on a computer.

A person's hand holds a pen while the person writes on paper. A backpack and laptop are also on the table.
Thousands of K-12 students have received assistance through the tutoring program.

Vosburgh said another key part of K-12 Connect's mission is to work closely with tutors to develop their skills and their commitment to the educational system. For instance, each tutor is assigned a coach who is a certified or retired educator who meets with them weekly, observes sessions and provides other support and feedback.

"We’re really looking to grow and strengthen these potential educators for the future –  but also education advocates," Vosburgh said.

Lauren Gutierrez, who is studying communication sciences and disorders at Grand Valley, started as a volunteer with the tutoring program and then was hired in 2021. 

She said working with students on their reading skills is gratifying while also providing valuable training for her career aspirations as a speech therapist. 

“I love watching the students grow so much and being someone they can rely on,” Gutierrez said, adding “Students behind in reading are similar to students who are behind in their speech of language. This has been a really great introduction into what the one-on-one sessions might look like as a speech therapist.”

Ryan Durkee, who is majoring in group social studies with secondary education, is working with students in a range of age groups on intensive math and targeted reading as well as in a program that provides homework help and mentoring.

Durkee said the mentoring with high school students ranges from discussions and support for future aspirations to helping establish organizational skills such as keeping a calendar and taking notes.

While the tutoring experience is key for Durkee’s career aspirations, he also believes anyone can benefit from the communication skills learned while tutoring, such as how to explain a difficult concept. Durkee also said it is fulfilling to watch the children grow in confidence and in their understanding of the material.

“For the first few weeks, they’re so down on themselves, but through coaching and the growth mindset that we give the kids, they are able to see they can do it. That is the most rewarding part for me,” Durkee said.


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