Can Tutoring Help Students Recover From The Pandemic? This Indy School Hopes So

By Lee V. Gaines
Casey McLeod (left), school leader for KIPP Indy College Prep Middle, said she’s received positive feedback from students involved in the tutoring program, which began in late spring. Gerlin Cartagena (right) is one student participating in the tutoring program.

When schools closed last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic and learning went online, Carmen Cartagena immediately noticed her daughter struggling to focus on virtual school. Cartagena’s daughter, Gerlin, is 12 years old and entering the seventh grade at KIPP Indy Schools, a charter school network in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood of Indianapolis.

Cartagena said she had to take time off from her job to be with her children during the pandemic, and that it was especially important that she was available for Gerlin.

“When she was working virtually, she would be asked a question and sometimes she would even be asleep at the computer. And I had to be paying attention to make sure that her things were getting done,” Cartagena said, speaking through an interpreter. (Cartagena is from Puerto Rico and her native language is Spanish.)

Gerlin’s school work suffered. Cartagena said Gerlin is shy, and she struggled to answer questions during virtual lessons.

“She’s very smart and very able. And I think there’s just currently a lot of distractions in her head,” Cartagena said. “And I want help from the school to be able to get her back to where she should be and where she used to be.”

‘Maximum Success’

Gerlin isn’t the only student to struggle as a result of pandemic-induced school closures. Less than 2 percent of students at her middle school — just six out of 354 who were tested — earned scores of proficient on both the math and English language arts portions of the state’s ILEARN exam. Statewide, fewer than 30 percent of Indiana students scored proficient in both math and English.

As students begin to transition back to school following two academic years riddled with classroom disruptions, districts are flush with federal cash. To help the tens of thousands of students who have fallen behind academically, some districts, including KIPP Indy Schools, have turned to tutoring services. But it’s unclear if schools will be able to sustain their investment in one-on-one instruction after the COVID-19 relief money runs out.

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