Are you looking for resources to help your school-age children through the academic year? From free tutoring to meals and enrichment programs, they’re out there — if you know where to look.
Across Seattle, agencies that typically serve youth and families have reallocated funds, staff and other resources to offer more support. Community organizations and grassroots groups have also stepped up their efforts to help fulfill needs that might normally have been met in-person while kids were attending school.
The Seattle Parks and Recreation operates seven learning hubs across the region, offering free learning support, enrichment programs and meals to middle and high school students — the age groups not served by the department’s child care and preschool programs.
“We know remote learning can make things more difficult for families,” said Damien Hicks, the department’s manager of Community Learning Centers.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan recently announced a new initiative to provide free child care for income-eligible families for the remainder of 2020. Seattle Parks and Recreation will provide copay relief to 145 families in its child care program who currently receive a scholarship. The Department of Education and Early Learning will cover all remaining child care costs for 301 families currently in the Child Care Assistance Program.
The Teen Learning Hubs will remain free and open to all students on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through June 18. Although students are socially distanced at the sites, the hubs give teens the opportunity to get out of the house and have some masked face-to-face time with their peers. Hicks said his department is always looking for partners to help offer more programs and activities, and also more bilingual support.
The program registration materials are available in six other languages beyond English, and students can start attending a hub site within 24 hours of registering.
But despite all these efforts to make the hubs helpful, accessible, welcoming and empowering, Hicks said there are still barriers to students participating.
“We get lots of sign-ups but not as many showups,” Hicks said.
Some teens — who could benefit from these learning sites — must stay home to take care of their younger siblings. Other families live too far from public transit, or have reservations about using it to travel during the pandemic. While the city’s Youth Opportunity Program provides free ORCA cards to all Seattle public high school students, middle school students still have to apply to prove income eligibility.
Seattle Public Schools students, teachers and staff can take advantage of the K-12 Library Link partnership, which gives access to all of the Seattle Public Library’s online resources with school ID information — no library card needed. This includes access to nonfiction, movies, research databases, comic books and graphic novels, among other materials.
“I think we’re in an opportunity gap crisis and the education gap has just exploded,” said Josie Watanabe, the Youth and Family Learning and Student Success Program manager at the Seattle Public Library.
Seattle Public Library also offers free tutoring through the website Tutor.com, which is run by the college preparation industry giant The Princeton Review.
Watanabe said Tutor.com has a user-friendly interface, as well as voice and sound activation features. The platform conducts background checks on its trained tutors, and provides some bilingual support, primarily in Spanish and Vietnamese. In addition to K-12 support, she said, Tutor.com offers college and career services for adults.
To expand outreach, a team of librarians has been connecting resources with Title I schools, which receive targeted federal funding to better support low-income student populations.
“The struggle is how do we provide resources in this virtual environment and how do we connect people with the resources they need the most,” she said.
Students supporting students
In some cases, students themselves are taking on the role of tutoring.
Logan Spoonemore, 18, is a senior at The Northwest School, an independent day and boarding school in First Hill. Her school building shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, and classes are being conducted remotely.
Spoonemore recognized a need for students to stay connected with each other, and to help one another.
“I just had a random idea, and I ended up putting my all in it,” she said.
Over the spring, she created a tutoring network among her peers, recruiting students from other high schools. Then she developed a website to help match volunteer high school student tutors with elementary and middle school students in need of support.
As of the beginning of November, her brainchild, Students Helping Seattle, has connected more than 300 families with local student tutors for free. Spoonemore works with eight student coordinators who match students with tutors across 38 different schools. The network now spans Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland and Tacoma.
Spoonemore thinks Students Helping Seattle has grown so rapidly because of the appeal of connecting younger kids with older student tutors.
“I feel like they understand the struggles of online learning and can understand how hard it can be for younger children to do online learning,” she said.
The matches Spoonemore carefully makes aren’t just by subject, like connecting a younger student struggling with math with a high school calculus whiz.
“I’ve had parents request for other students of color if they have a student of color. I’ve also done matches by common interests and activities, like soccer. It’s really important for a little kid to have a tutor they can enjoy,” Spoonemore said.
Right now, she says she’s getting an average of five new students to volunteer as tutors each week — and between eight and 10 requests a week for tutors.
“I am working through them as quickly as I get student volunteers,” she said.
Spoonemore is a javelin thrower and plans to throw at Pomona College and study business after she graduates from high school this spring. But she says she intends on keeping Students Helping Seattle up and running “as long as needed, even after the COVID-19 pandemic,” because she sees how it’s fulfilling a need.
She’s heard how tutors have bonded with their matches by playing math games through baking and by sharing goals and dreams and laughs with one another in trying times.
“I’m pretty proud of the tutors,” Spoonemore said. “I kind of have a lot of faith in Gen Z. This is a little way we can start fixing lots of issues that face our society.”