Alachua County Public Schools has launched a new tutoring program for its students, and it’s completely free of cost.
The new Beyond the Bell virtual tutoring program is available to students of all grade levels and run by volunteer teachers from the school district.
According to Patti Knapp, the coordinator of supplemental educational interventions at Alachua County Public Schools, Alachua is one of the few school districts in Florida to use their own teachers for a tutoring service.
“There are other districts that will contract with [outside] tutoring services to provide this service,” Knapp said. “But these are actual Alachua County school district teachers, so that’s what makes us a little bit different and puts that personal touch to it.”
The idea for this program came about as a result of the pandemic. Knapp, who currently heads the program, said the district’s administration noticed that students who were studying from home needed some extra help.
“We as a district were looking at the needs and how we could make sure to offer everything we can to our students,” Knapp said.
Beyond the Bell features 35 different virtual tutoring sessions Monday through Thursday. Students can choose to attend from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
This flexible tutoring schedule was created with busy families in mind.
“This is really nice for working parents, especially those with young kids,” said Mary Benedict, PTA president of Alachua County Public Schools.
Students can access the Beyond the Bell service by signing into their ACPS myPortal. Once logged in, students are sent a Zoom link for a meeting that corresponds with their grade level. Elementary students have one link, while secondary students use another.
Once students enter their assigned Zoom meeting, a facilitator directs them to a subject-specific break out room. These rooms are set up to host up to eight students at once.
Though all the students present can hear what their peers ask the tutor, help is individual and personalized, one student at a time.
“I always enjoy working with students one-on-one,” said Anneliese Henshaw, a fifth-grade teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School and volunteer tutor for Beyond the Bell. “You don’t really get to do that in the classroom. It can really make a difference.”
Henshaw has signed up to tutor four times since the program began on Sept. 15. She teaches math and science at her school, but tutors fifth-graders in all subjects for Beyond the Bell.
She said she sees about five or six students an hour online, and most of them don’t need their parents’ help to join.
“They’re so motivated,” Henshaw said. “They log on by themselves and ask so many questions.”
In addition to being a great help to students, Henshaw thinks Beyond the Bell is a nice community builder. She gets to work with kids from all over the county who aren’t in her class, which she believes makes for a nice social experience for the kids.
“It really speaks to the flexibility of the education system,” Henshaw said.
According to Benedict, thousands of Alachua County students have been sent home to quarantine in the first six weeks of school alone. This means students are not only losing a lot of socializing time, but also valuable in-person instruction.
“I think that this [tutoring program] is a great use of funding being provided by the government to help combat the learning loss of our students due to COVID-19,” Benedict said. “I’m so glad that it’s here.”
The Beyond the Bell program is funded by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), a grant provided to Alachua County Public Schools by the state to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools.
“This is something that is a huge win for our students and teachers,” Benedict said.
Knapp anticipates more students will take part in the Beyond the Bell program as word spreads in the following weeks. She expects there to be a need for more facilitators and tutoring sessions sometime in the near future.
The program will run for the duration of the school year, and Knapp said the district plans to continue it in the future as long as there is still a need for it and sufficient funding.
“We’re real excited for it,” Knapp said.