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Driving from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles, Claudia Kraake was struck with an idea so exciting, she pulled over on the side of the freeway to brainstorm, she said. To help local K-12 students navigate online learning, the child development junior built a network of Cal Poly student tutors.

“You have to take charge of what you want to do in the world,” Kraake said. “If you want to change the world, you have to grab it, especially now.”

Kraake came up with the idea to ease San Luis Obispo families into virtual learning. The tutoring network seemingly grew overnight — from a staff of thirteen to 380 tutors, connecting them with over 130 local families

“[Kraake] saw a world going topsy turvy and asked herself, ‘How can I help? What do I have to offer?’” said psychology and child development professor Amarilis Marques Iscold.

Iscold guided Kraake in bringing her vision to life. Kraake said she is grateful for the support she has received.

“I feel so lucky. This is beyond what I can believe,” Kraake said. “The support and response I have had — it’s unfathomable.” 

Kraake describes her creation as a “Match.com for learning tools.” Kraake presents families with three potential tutors, based on the child’s needs and the tutor’s qualifications. Pay, hours and safety precautions are up to the families. 

A GoFundMe page supports families in need of financial support, and any surplus funds will be donated to the Family Care Network in San Luis Obispo. Some tutors donate their time to these families in need, and some paying families donate funds, according to Kraake. 

On their applications, tutors specify which ages, subjects and hours they are willing to work with. Responsibilities may go beyond guidance with schoolwork, Kraake said. Tutors may spend time providing kids with time-management strategies or overseeing engaged Zoom sessions with teachers. Cal Poly student-athletes have also signed on to lead kids in physical education and outdoor play that quarantine curtails.

Guardians unfamiliar with online education resources have used Kraake’s network to help with learning the ropes of technology such as Zoom and Google Classroom in order to keep up with their children’s work, according to Kraake. 

Families seeking more in-person connections for their students arrange “pods” of kids who meet regularly in one location to attend online classes, all overseen by one tutor. 

Tutors and families specify their COVID-19 safety requisites in their applications, and Kraake takes this into account when matching families with tutors. The facilitation of safety arrangements is between the tutors and families, Kraake said. 

“This is new for everyone,” Iscold said. “Having other sources of connection and academic support will potentially mitigate family stress and also give college students an opportunity to connect and contribute to their communities.”

The idea of “emotion work” was the inspiration behind Kraake’s mission to provide children of the San Luis Obispo community with extra educational resources. 

Kraake defines the term “emotion work” as the regulation and management of feelings in everyday human connection. Online learning emphasizes the importance of emotion work for students of all ages, she said. 

“Before the pandemic, K-12 students had human connection every day, practicing emotional connections with different feelings from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m,” Kraake said. “Now, more than ever, kids need to be aware of what they’re feeling, with the world flipped upside down. Stress isn’t always on the surface.”

According to executive director of the writing and learning center Dawn Janke and tutoring coordinator Tyler Gardner, tutoring benefits the tutor just as much as the tutored.  

“When they come to the end of their time tutoring in the center, it seems like all tutors can talk about is how much they have grown academically and personally,” Gardner said. “This is the high impact of collaborative learning—it benefits everyone involved.”

In addition to developing an improved understanding of subject-specific material, the process of supporting diverse students with a variety of projects and assignments helps tutors develop communication and interpersonal skills create lifelong benefits, Janke said.

“When students think of learning in terms of independently processing class lectures and studying alone in their preferred corner of the library, they can all too easily overlook the powerful role that collaboration plays in meaning-making,” Janke said. 

According to Janke and Gardner, the collaboration in tutoring creates an additional space outside of the classroom for students to discuss their ideas and talk through what they are studying with someone who has experience in the subject matter. 

In a virtual learning environment where students of all ages might feel a heightened need for such connection, the Writing and Learning Center’s resources grow even more important, according to Janke and Gardner. 

“Tutors… act as learning guides and collaborative partners,” Gardner said. “This student-driven learning space allows for individualized attention and connection, which helps foster and support the learning process.”

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