Home-Working It: Students volunteer as virtual tutors

Elementary math and English language arts. Middle and high school level social studies, biology, chemistry, STEM, Latin, Spanish, French, pre-algebra, geometry, algebra 2, pre-calculus, and calculus. 

MBU students study it all. And they are sharing that knowledge with those who need it most during the pandemic.

MBU students including (l-r) Leidiana Delgado ’23, Elyse Levens ’21, and Elizabeth Penn ’23 are volunteering to tutor K-12 students in virtual sessions through the new Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Tutoring Network.

Working through the College of Education and the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement, MBU students have stepped up to volunteer as virtual tutors in the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro (SAW) Tutoring Network and help local K–12 children increase their understanding of a wide range of subjects.  

“The SAW Tutoring Network provides extra support for those who need help, and it also builds community and connection in these difficult times of social distance,” said Elizabeth Penn ’23, who serves as an MBU tutor and is double majoring in marketing and communication and English.

As local schools adopted virtual and hybrid operational plans due to the pandemic, community organizers including Sarah Mendonca — who spearheaded creating the tutoring network and now helps administer it — recognized that collaboration across organizations would be key to helping families grapple with the change in education. 

Mendonca, the Staunton-Augusta YMCA, Mary Baldwin, and the Community Foundation of the Blue Ridge partnered together to launch the tutoring network in October. Sessions are offered completely free of charge.

“The MBU students have brought an abundance of enthusiasm and skill to the program,” said Mendonca. “It has also been advantageous to have the support of the MBU education faculty, as their perspective has guided decision making throughout the process.”

An MBU tutor assists a local student with math via video chat as part of the SAW Tutoring Network. Tutors help local K–12 children increase their understanding of a wide range of subjects, free of charge. 

Community members are also serving as tutors, in addition to Mary Baldwin students, providing virtual connections during a time when many people must remain relatively isolated.

“Now that we’re approaching the two-month mark, we are beginning to see students who keep returning for tutoring and often end up working with the same tutor,” said Mendonca. “That students find enough value to continue showing up is a testament to the program’s effectiveness, but it’s equally inspiring to see how much the tutors enjoy helping students.” 

Tutors are matched with small groups of tutorees based on their knowledge and skill set. During hour-long sessions over video chat, they answer questions, help with homework, suggest activities for extra practice, and provide support and encouragement. Session monitors are also present to assist with technology and logistics. 

“We’ve learned that this type of community-university partnership is quite unique among virtual tutoring programs,” said Tynisha Willingham, dean of the College of Education. “It affords MBU the opportunity to contribute resources, expertise, and skills to a significant community effort to support local children and families.”   

Political science major Leidiana Delgado ’23 serves as a tutor mentor for the program, developing resources, tools, and activities to help MBU tutors meet the different needs of students and make each session a success. 

“Staunton is a great town that I have been able to call home during my time at Mary Baldwin,” said Delgado, who’s originally from Palm Beach, Florida. “I am so happy to be able to help local students and to connect with the community through education.”

“This partnership affords MBU the opportunity to contribute to a significant community effort to support local children and families.”

Tynisha Willingham, dean of the College of Education

Volunteering is a two-way street — as MBU students support local children, they also gain beneficial skills and experience.

“Being able to successfully and easily relay information will be incredibly useful to my research career,” said applied mathematics major Elyse Levens ’21, who tutored students in math, French, physics, and chemistry. “Volunteering with the tutoring network has also given me more confidence in my own knowledge, which has helped me overcome any nervousness with public speaking.” 

The virtual tutoring network will resume for the spring semester, giving MBU students more opportunities to bring their own knowledge to life by helping others.

“The program offers our students opportunities for meaningful and timely civic engagement through which they can develop their communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills while sharing their academic knowledge and establishing contacts in the local community,” said Christina Harrison, director of the Spencer Center.

“Staunton is a great town that I have been able to call home. I am so happy to be able to connect with the community through education.”

Leidiana Delgado ’23, tutor and political science major

How to Get Involved

MBU community members interested in registering their children for free tutoring sessions can sign up here. The services are available for any child in public or private K-12 schools in the Staunton, Augusta County, and Waynesboro area. 

Opportunities to volunteer as a tutor are ongoing. Interested students, faculty, staff, and alumni can sign up here to support local children. Tutors are vetted and provided with training and orientation before they begin, and they are supported with weekly check-ins to share how sessions are going and gain educational resources. 

Additional information about the SAW Tutoring Network can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.