The 5C community was devastated when the campuses closed last March, but students, faculty and staff were not the only ones who had to adapt — some younger community members rely on an open campus, too.
Pitzer College’s Tutors for a Cause, a club providing tutoring for the children of Pitzer faculty and staff, has run for over 10 years.
Before the pandemic shut down the colleges, kids were dropped off at Pitzer’s campus on Saturday mornings with members of Tutors for a Cause, all of whom were Pitzer students themselves.
After the students’ work was done, students and tutors would go to brunch at McConnell Dining Hall together and then finish up the afternoon by playing outside at some of the kid-friendly areas around campus. Anything, club leader Aaron Scher PZ ’22 said, could be a playground.
“The volleyball court, as many of us think of it — to the kids, it is just like a giant sandbox to play and get buried in and all that fun stuff.”
Tutors for a Cause does what it can to continue functioning in an online environment, but Scher admitted that the club’s programs ran much smoother on campus. The club now offers one-on-one tutoring for students, where kids are each matched with one Pitzer student who tutors them at a specific time each week. Additionally, they offer weekly “homework help hours” where students are free to drop in and meet with a tutor in a breakout room.
Although Tutors for a Cause primarily focuses on serving the children of Pitzer faculty and staff, their programming also helped the children’s families by providing a form of childcare and opportunities for mentorship. The tutors noticed that since going online, some of that support for families was lost.
“I think it’s really tough for some of these families, because the kids are in the house for 24 hours a day,” Scher said. “It’s nowhere near as easy for them as sending them off to [Pitzer] for four hours.”
Not having the in-person programming is a loss for the students, since coming to Pitzer every Saturday is no longer a part of their routines.
“The kids are very much looking forward to when we can be on campus again, which is sad but also really nice to hear that they enjoy it,” Simone Paradis PZ ’23 said.
Even though the club has been working hard to adapt to the challenges of virtual learning, they struggled to find enough students for their tutors to help this year.
“I don’t think it’s because our program is bad,” Scher said of participation. “Zoom is really tough for a lot of folks, and access to technology is also really tough.”
Lucy Conover PZ ’23 joined Tutors for a Cause last semester and has only ever worked with the students online. She hasn’t gotten to experience the connection with students that is typically formed in person, so she enjoys being as creative and social with them as possible while getting creative with in-house resources.
“We did ‘minute to win it’ competitions, and we all had to do challenges in our house,” Conover said. “I set up a scavenger hunt where we all had to find a hat, a pen and a stuffed animal within 30 seconds.”
Although skills like Conover’s are received well by the kids, creativity and friendliness are not all that is needed to be a successful tutor. Some of the club members mentioned qualities like patience, flexibility and an understanding of what it means to help a student rather than doing something for them.
“It’s a bit of the idea to make kids feel confident in themselves … that they believe that the idea is theirs,” Alexa Robbins PZ ’23 said. “I think that presenting yourself as a helpful peer that can maybe push a student along to make a particular realization is important.”
Paradis noted that having a child’s whole life switch to the virtual environment is taxing in all aspects and is not solely noticeable when working on homework after school.
“When a student does come, you ask them about how school is going and how they’re doing right now, and usually it’s not very positive,” Paradis said.
The technological challenges for students, especially the young kids, also stand out to the tutors.
“To be able to be a friend and someone to talk to and to make online school a bit easier and relieve stress in some way is very rewarding, and I’m glad to be a part of it.” —Lucy Conover PZ ’23
“We can’t do very much to help them with their homework if they don’t know what’s going on in class or where to find their homework on the various online platforms they use,” Paradis said.
“I think about myself at that age — I didn’t know how to operate a computer very well,” Conover said. “It’s really hard for kids to figure out how to do their homework, share their screen, show the assignment, pull up the virtual textbook.”
Within the club, the tutors maintain a supportive environment where they feel like they can ask each other for advice or help with specific subjects, as well as hold each other accountable for their interactions with the students. Both on campus and online, after their weekly meetings with the students, the tutors debrief the events of the day with each other and discuss ways in which they can improve.
Even with all of the challenges that the virtual environment has brought, tutors and students with Tutors for a Cause are still making the most out of their time together.
“To be able to be a friend and someone to talk to and to make online school a bit easier and relieve stress in some way is very rewarding,” Conover said, “and I’m glad to be a part of it.”