Written by Sarah Fligel
While educators have long lamented the summer learning loss that occurs every year after summer break, they now have a new wrinkle to deal with: the “COVID slide.” One recent report by NWEA found that school interruptions due to COVID-19 and summer break may cause students to lose over half of what they learned in math in the 2019-20 school year.
It's a challenge Heart Math Tutoring is meeting head on, even if their program looks a little different this year. “It’s incredible what our program staff, our volunteers, and our families have been able to do,” says Mary Gamble, donor relations coordinator for Heart Tutoring. “It’s encouraging to know our program works virtually as well as in person.”
Heart Math Tutoring is a math intervention program that recruits, trains and supports volunteers as tutors in high-poverty elementary schools in Charlotte. Its mission is to ensure all elementary students develop the strong foundation in math and enthusiasm for academics needed for long-term success, by helping schools use volunteers as tutors.
In partnership with CMS, Heart Tutoring provides tutors with a fun curriculum that features hands-on activities and math games, targeting math concepts ranging from counting to multiplication fluency. Each tutoring session is 30 minutes, so most volunteers tutor two students back-to-back for 30 minutes each. Each school has a program coordinator that trains and coordinates volunteers, communicates with school staff, and monitors and supports student progress.
This school year, Heart Tutoring’s traditional in-person model has had to shift to virtual tutoring, but the nonprofit is ready for it. Heart launched a six-week virtual math tutoring program for 74 students from 13 elementary schools in June. The pilot program utilized Google Jamboard, a whiteboard app that tutors and students could manipulate simultaneously, and virtual “breakout room” technology so coordinators could monitor multiple sessions and provide real-time support. One hundred percent of surveyed families that participated rated the program a positive experience, and 83 percent of the students showed growth in one or more of the math concept areas.
“It’s new for the families,” Gamble says. “It’s new for the volunteers. But what we’ve found is the students have still been able to learn and build relationships over a computer screen.”
It’s those connections that play a big role in Heart Tutoring’s success. Jalen Gilmore has been a Heart tutor for three years. “It’s great seeing [students] work and become more confident, finding out ways to solve the problems on their own, figuring out ‘Okay, what’s the best way to do this?’” he says. Marilyn Pharr, a teacher at Bruns Avenue Elementary, sees the positives as well. “There are always smiles and high fives,” she says. “The one-on-one lessons are extremely beneficial in building self-esteem and allow children to have lots of fun while learning.”
Last year, 1,193 students at 23 elementary schools received one-on-one instruction twice a week from Heart tutors. Since beginning in 2013, the organization has served over 4,500 students. Collectively, its volunteers provide 50 hours per week, per school, of targeted one-on-one instruction that otherwise would not be available.
As Heart Tutoring plans for next year, it hopes to expand to 27 schools. The ability to implement the program both in-person and virtually could help the nonprofit reach schools where traditionally it has been harder to find volunteers, often because of location, Gamble says.
Regardless of how the instruction is delivered, the critical need for tutoring remains. In 2019, 51 percent of 4th graders in CMS scored below grade level in math. Without a strong foundation in math, success in higher levels of learning only gets more difficult. Across the district, math proficiency rates decline in grades 6-8 and do not recover in high school, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
This is where Heart Tutoring plays such a vital role. With hands-on experience that targets specific conceptual gaps, struggling students can catch up to grade level and progress with their class to higher levels of learning. A recent analysis found that despite starting significantly behind, students who participated in Heart Tutoring during 1st and 2nd grade achieved 3rd grade EOG scores that reflected no significant difference from non-Heart students at their schools one year after participating. 98 percent of Heart students to date have met the program goals in math.
“When I look at student data and the improvements that our kids have made through Heart [Tutoring], it truly is astounding,” says Daniel Gray, principal at Hidden Valley Elementary. “Heart has helped build our students into better mathematicians, but also better scholars overall.”
One key component of Heart’s program is having a coordinator dedicated to each school that supports the students, teachers and volunteers. Even virtually, the coordinators can observe multiple sessions at a time and are available to answer questions if needed. “It’s a significant expense, and it’s the reason this program works [for students, volunteers and schools],” Gamble says. “The program coordinator takes stress off the teachers, who do so much. If we can help make their jobs easier by taking some things off their plate, then it’s positive.”
One second-grade teacher at Billingsville Elementary saw how the one-on-one instruction from Heart tutors benefitted one of her students. She recommended an English language learner who was behind in all his subjects for Heart Tutoring. After several months, she noticed an “academic growth spurt” in him and was surprised as he participated eagerly during a math lesson. “He shocked me and his new classmates with his newfound math skills!” she recalled. The student went on to score 90 percent on a Common Core second grade assessment, and his teacher attributed much of that to time spent with Heart tutors.On Tuesday, December 1, our community will come together to support local nonprofit communities on a day when 400-plus other communities around the world are doing the same. To support Heart Math Tutoring, visit https://hearttutoring.org/donate/. $1,000 will support one-on-one math tutoring for a student in the 2021-22 school year.
Heart is also in the running this month to win $5K, thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation. Vote now for which organization you would like to see take the grand prize and stay tuned as we announce the winner on #GivingTuesdayCLT!