Kier Bishop, 14, made his mother proud and impressed her with his confidence and focus as he transformed his freshman year grades last semester. He had a rocky beginning as the pandemic shifts set in. When he started high school last fall at Frederick Law Olmstead, he was making a transition from a smaller Catholic school to a public school that he was not able to step inside of. Nor did he get to meet any of his classmates or teachers as he finished his first year.
As he sat in on his Zoom classes, Bishop had questions about what he was learning, but he wasn’t sure how to get answers. When his mother spotted an ad on Facebook, he agreed to try “Homework Help,” a new, free tutoring service that GSE launched to assist with virtual learning needs when school buildings were closed during the pandemic. UB students earned teaching credits by tutoring Buffalo Public Schools high school students who signed up for help.
The program launched in November and averaged about 80 appointments with UB tutors and Buffalo students each week. The popular initiative drew 125 UB volunteers – from undergraduate education majors taking courses in GSE’s UB Teach program to GSE graduate students.
BPS students gave their tutors high marks in the reviews. And there were more interested tutors, about 45, than there were Buffalo students who asked for help, said Elisabeth Etopio, assistant dean of teacher education and clinical associate professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction. The success and extra capacity have led to plans to continue the program next year, she said, perhaps broadening the scope to include more school districts.
She has been pleased to see that some matches, like Bishop and Isabella Pezouvanis, a freshman education major, have been so successful, they met sometimes twice a week, all semester long.
“That skill of building a relationship with individual students and gaining insights into individual students, for me, as a teacher educator, is just crucially important,” Etopio said. “We know you have to have a rapport before they’re willing to learn … You have to trust the person who’s guiding you through your homework … That’s a hallmark of good teaching.”
Demonstrating another successful teaching strategy, Pezouvanis flexed to adjust to a glitch. While she’d offered to help with English, she was assigned to cover geometry as well. When Etopio checked, Pezouvanis said she could handle both subjects by brushing up on her geometry. “That kind of initiative on the part of our students is moving,” said Etopio.
Pezouvanis, who signed up to earn credit for a course, got more out of the experience than she expected. As she worked with Bishop, she could see how rapport impacts learning, just as Etopio hoped.
Pezouvanis let Bishop take charge and guide each session, coaching and encouraging him to strengthen his problem-solving skills as they worked together to tackle homework puzzles. He zeroed in on his most pressing homework concerns—from English to social studies—and took time with geometry, which he likes for its connection to his ambition to design cars.
It’s given me a new lens,” she said. “How can I be an advocate in and out of the classroom?”
Bishop noticed changes in himself since they started working together. He used to rush through homework, just to get it over with. He learned to take his time and work more efficiently. “I feel like it’s better than being sloppy and rushing,” he said.
His Zoom partnership with Pezouvanis led to the sense of community he’d been missing at virtual high school. “It helps,” said Bishop. “I got to actually talk to her and it’s easier to understand stuff.”