By Karsen Wahal
Despite the return of in-person Bay Area High Schools to in-person learning this fall, Stanford policies require local tutoring programs to remain fully online. Among the impacted programs is the Haas Center for Public Service’s High School Support Initiative (HSSI), which provides Stanford tutors, mentors and academic support to high school students from historically marginalized local communities.
In a typical year, Stanford students would take buses to local high school, where they would tutor students. But for the last academic year, tutors and students had to transition to an online system which still remains fully in place — even though all parties are currently attending school in person.
According to the HSSI Program Director Priscila Garcia, program heads were ready to make the necessary adjustments when the University’s policies requiring HSSI to remain online came out.
“We always had a Plan A, of returning in-person, but plan B was this hybrid model,” Garcia said. “There was always the knowledge that either community partners or situations at Stanford could dictate could shift depending on community needs.”
HSSI connects Stanford tutors with high school students from East Palo Alto Academy and Menlo-Atherton High School. For Helena Zhang ’22, an HSSI fellow since her frosh year, the program has always been one of her most fulfilling experiences at Stanford.
“These students always have these doubts at the beginning, where they just don’t understand the concepts,” Zhang said. “But the second you lightly explain something to them, it clicks, and it’s so cool to see them grow within a short period of time and hear their stories.”
For tutors, the online setting has provided opportunities for more unique approaches to teaching through the use of Zoom games and features, although connecting with students through a screen has proved to be more difficult than working with them in person.
“With online tutoring, we meet students in Zoom breakout rooms and tailor our lessons to a student’s needs by using a whiteboard so they’re able to annotate and show their work,” said HSSI fellow Estefania Ramirez ’23. “However, it’s a little difficult to connect with students since sometimes their cameras are off or their Wi-Fi isn’t stable.”
Many HSSI fellows agree and said they acknowledge that online tutoring comes with both pros and cons.
“Being with someone physically in person feels a lot more natural and is a lot more fun, since it helps everyone get to know each other,” Zhang added. “At the same time, there’s a cool novelty to Zoom in that we can explore the best ways to teach other people by drawing on a board or sharing a screen.”
One of the most significant costs associated with maintaining online programs while school is in person has been declining recruitment and retention amongst Stanford students.
“Stanford students are trying to deal with what it means to be back on campus, and priorities have shifted,” Garcia said. “We have to grapple with where students are in terms of mental health, and figure out how to have a strong tutoring program as we transition to in-person. We’re still looking for more tutors.”
The programs are likely to become fully in-person in winter quarter, Garcia said, as long as case numbers continue to improve locally and restrictions are eased.