(Photo by Ralston Smith on Unsplash)

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Lynette Jasper Edwards knew it was time to do something.

The disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic had come into sharp focus for classroom teachers and parents in Fall 2020. And she was both. Some students weren’t adapting well to the virtual classroom and others needed more support than the screen could give them.

“The pandemic pushed some students further behind,” said Edwards. “They might have been able to hang in there even though they weren’t strong readers; but because of the last year, what was a little behind has turned into two years.”

Edwards said many parents contacted her “looking for individualization through a tutor, someone who can give the child all of what they missed by not being in the classroom.” 

Prior to the pandemic, she had been tutoring alongside a 27-year career in education. Edwards honed her skills teaching elementary grades, special education and students learning English as a second language. When the pandemic slammed into the education system she saw first hand how some students were left behind.

“Students with disabilities have individualized education plans (IEP) that usually can not be well served through virtual learning,” said Edwards. 

Students with IEPs are by law required to have all supports deemed necessary to meet goals stated in their education plan. 

“These children have IEPs with set goals for a reason. Normally they’re not going to meet those goals if you can’t actually sit with the student in person,” said Edwards,  and she would know. 

Not only has she worked as a special education teacher, Edwards is also a parent to two special needs students.

“My daughter was doing okay. She was a little unattentive, but we probably could have left her in public school virtually,” said Edwards. That was not the case for her son, who struggles with autism. 

“There was no way,” she said. “He was having the worst time.”

Disparities in virtual learning pushed her to join the thousands of families that abandoned the public school system in the past year. Those same disparities caused her to go full speed ahead with Mindsprout Tutoring and Homeschool Services. 

What was once a one-woman show is now a business of roughly 65 clients and 65 tutors that provide tutoring in all subject areas.

Similar to Edwards, Myshaurna Harrison saw a need and sprang into action. 

“I started Building Black Excellence in July of 2020 to combat the academic regression and stagnation that was going to become evident due to COVID-19 and students being out of school.”

Harrison said she saw “a lack of engagement” that concerned her. 

“The children would log on, read a book, answer a few questions and that would be the plan for the day,” she said. “They weren’t learning.”

Harrison specializes in working with students experiencing dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Through Building Black Excellence she delivers crucial support to students who need tailored, one-on-one sessions to make academic progress. Parents can put their own tutoring plan together depending on how many sessions they would like per week or month.

Though she is certified through the National Tutoring Association, Harrison says all caregivers have the power to become tutors. She works with parents to help them see how they can provide learning opportunities throughout the week.

For pre-k students and kindergarten students, Harrison said repetition is key to grasping letter sounds, colors, shapes and a sense of how numbers work. Everything from flashcards to cereal can be used to drive home early education concepts.

For upper elementary students, the dinner table can turn into a simple lesson on fractions and questions like “what do you think will happen next and why?” can build reading comprehension.

“Even if you don’t have access, a lot of us have smartphones and technology that gives access,” said Harrison. “It’s not necessarily the teacher’s responsibility to hone in on one child that is behind when they have so many other students that they have to move along.”

“That’s where tutors come in. We are the ones that should be closing the educational gap- the tutors as well as parents.”

Shawnya Peace, founder of Peace Enrichment Academy (PEA), believes that having tutors of color has gone a long way in helping the students most affected by the pandemic. 

I believe tutors and teachers resembling the student they’re before is very important.

The pandemic impacted students of all demographics. Minority students were greatly impacted. Some of the disparities included lack of internet, technology, home life structure, meals and support,” said Peace. “The goal of PEA was to fill in the gaps.” 

“At PEA we worked on everything from helping kindergarteners with letter recognition to revisiting skills with eighth graders as they enter high school.”

Though the challenges abound, Peace believes that Black tutors have been crucial in building the resiliency needed to handle the pandemic. 

“I always tell my students, ‘You can use your story as a crutch or ladder.’ Being from their community allows me to empathize with the situation, and still hold them accountable for their today and future.”

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer