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Virtual tutoring program helps Stockton students perform better at math

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Since the fall 2022 launch of Teach for America’s Ignite tutoring program in Aspire Rosa Parks Elementary School, school administrators said they have seen a rise in student math performance.

When her students returned to school after the COVID-19 shutdown in 2021, Principal Kimberly Lewis said they — like many nationwide — experienced academic setbacks.

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“At that time, we were feeling the effects. That first year, it was about teaching kids how to sit in class and teach them what school was supposed to look like … especially for our youngest who never had the opportunity to do (transitional kindergarten) or kindergarten,” Lewis said. “We had a lot of students who were struggling and who we knew were capable but needed extra help.”

Ignite has helped bridge that learning gap, according to Aspire administrators.

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A spring 2023 impact report shows that 583 Ignite tutoring sessions were held at the elementary school last year, providing students with 437 additional hours of individualized learning. The report also shows that nearly 72% of students met their semester-long goals, as measured by the assessments.

Founded in 2021, Ignite is a virtual, one-to-one tutoring program that pairs paid, part-time tutors, many of whom are college students, with elementary school students needing support in English or math.

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Students enrolled in the Ignite tutoring program receive three 45-minute tutoring sessions per week after school hours. They attend the tutoring sessions in a classroom under the supervision of school staff members but complete lessons independently with the help of their online tutor.

Currently, 60 fourth-grade and fifth-grade students are enrolled in the tutoring program at Aspire Rosa Parks Elementary School. In the 2022-2023 school year, 40 students received a year’s worth of math tutoring, according to Aspire’s Dean of Instruction, Cherie Sandoval.

“We’re always excited and hopeful that they’re going to make growth, and we love it when we see that,” Lewis said. “What’s even better than that is when we see their attitudes toward these subjects change.”

About 84% of surveyed students said they were excited to participate in math after receiving Ignite’s tutoring sessions, up 10 points in 11 weeks, according to data shared by the school.

“That’s the biggest thing we can celebrate. It’s the mindset change. That’s hard to do, but that’s the reason why they’ve experienced so much growth,” Lewis said. “That one-on-one attention builds their confidence, knowing someone cares about them so much that they log in and tutor them for an hour three days a week.”

This past school year, nearly 1,500 Ignite tutors have partnered with 2,700 students across 23 communities, according to Teach for America.

Scott Richards, Teach for America’s California Capital Valley executive director, said the program recruits college students and gives them an opportunity to serve as tutors in one of its partner schools. Tutors earn an award of up to $1,200 at the end of each semester.

“They’re working with students with two goals or objectives in mind. One is obviously academic growth and achievement, so the school is identifying what areas the students need to focus on … usually it’s either English or math,” Richards said. “The second component is social-emotional well-being. We’re asking students how they’re doing. We’re asking them if they feel connected to their tutor or a sense of belonging throughout their program.”

Roberto Zamora, a fourth-year college student majoring in psychology at San Diego State University, became an Ignite tutor in his sophomore year of college. He has tutored students in multiple cities and states, including Stockton.

“I benefit in many ways. I gain experience, I earn a stipend, and I can help the youth,” Zamora said. “The most rewarding part of being a tutor is connecting with the students and knowing that you can help motivate them or help them form a plan.”

Zamora grew up in a low-income family and encounters many students who come from similar backgrounds. He said he doesn’t just see himself as a tutor but also as a mentor who can speak to students from experience.

“Let’s say you’re in elementary school and you want to become a doctor or a police officer … you don’t really know how to get there,” he said. “I can provide some guidance and tell them what to expect when they get to middle school, high school, and college.”

Richards said tutors like Zamora can make all the difference in students’ academic success and happiness levels.

“When students meet with the same tutor day-to-day, that really matters. It’s not a different person they’re seeing. They’re actually building a rapport,” Richards said. “I see students start feeling like school is a place where they belong, where they have an adult that cares for them and wants them to be successful. That has a profound impact on kids.”

Record reporter Hannah Workman covers news in Stockton and San Joaquin County. She can be reached at hworkman@recordnet.com or on Twitter @byhannahworkman. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.