WESTFIELD, NJ — The pandemic has created educational challenges, but one neighborhood group is doing its best to ensure that students receive the help they need.

The Westfield Neighborhood Council’s tutoring program has been helping students in person for years, but much like the rest of the world, it had to shift gears. The program’s volunteers have turned to virtual sessions to help its students.

The council’s tutoring program, which is run by Amy Kover, has been around for about 5 years and has always done in-person learning with its tutors — known as homework helpers — and its students. In the past, each homework helper was assigned to one student, and the pairs often met on Thursdays for their free tutoring sessions made available to families who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

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However, with the pandemic shutting down many in-person learning opportunities, Kover and her fellow volunteers needed to think of ways to cater to a virtual world. Although Kover said it took a little while to find a new normal and overcome some obstacles, they have successfully moved to an all-remote learning program. 

“It’s all about adapting. Is it ideal? No,” Kover said. “But we’re connecting to families.”

One of the biggest hurdles the tutoring program needed to overcome was providing the necessary technology to students. Luckily, two Chromebooks were donated, making it possible for these students to work at home.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, it was just about getting Chromebooks to families who didn’t have technology,” Kover said. “There is an educational divide in Westfield between different kids. If you don’t have the money for the technology, you’re at a disadvantage.”

The other technology challenge that arose for the tutoring program was the inability to use Zoom and Google Meet because of privacy issues. In order to combat this, Kover spoke to the Westfield School District and laid out all the technology issues she was facing.

Chief Technology Officer Brian Auker of Westfield Public schools was a big help, according to Kover, who said he set the homework helpers up on the video conferencing application WebEx.

Since then, Kover said the tutoring program has been successfully hosting virtual tutoring sessions, and the homework helpers and students are able to set up their sessions on their own time to fit their schedules.

“A lot of kids are burnt out on screen time. It’s a lot,” Kover said. “We set it up so families just do it when they need it. Some kids do twice a week, others one. It’s more flexible since we do it remotely.”

Besides the tutoring sessions, Kover often checks in on families through text to make sure all is running smoothly and the kids are feeling comfortable with the set up. Based on the positive responses, many kids are finding the program extremely helpful in navigating this challenging time.

Westfield seventh-grader Audrina Cohall has been enjoying the program and connected well with her homework helper.

“I feel as if this homework program has helped me understand things better than the teachers could explain during this pandemic, and my favorite is Bianca Cammarano,” Cohall said.

Although the homework helpers were originally all adults in the program’s early days, many of the homework helper spots are now taken by high school students. Having high school students as tutors makes the kids feel more comfortable, Kover said.

Currently, the tutoring program has seven students being tutored by one homework helper each, and they have recently added new families to the program. Some families are even asking for more tutoring sessions for their children.

“It’s sort of taken on a different tone this year. I miss them being able to see each other. Having them all together was great, but I do think we are making a difference,” Kover said. “It’s just about empathy.”

For more information about the Westfield Neighborhood Council's tutoring program, email Neighborhood Council President Carol Mercer at president.westfieldnc@gmail.com or visit the WNC's Facebook page.

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