School closures across the country have made it difficult for families to adjust to children’s remote learning and help them stay motivated academically.
When College Horticulturist and Staff Council President Tim Parsons heard that Middlebury staff were struggling, he sent out a call for help. Hundreds of students answered the call.
Middlebury Volunteer Tutors has rallied hundreds of student volunteers to help tutor the children of Middlebury staff.
“We wanted to build an effort to connect students with staff needs to be as supportive as possible,” said Ami Furgang ’20, one of the lead organizers of the program.
Furgang, Tara Santi ’20, and Jaden Hill ’22 worked with Parsons and Stacie Marshall, assistant to the vice president for college advancement, to create promotional materials and plans in order to reach out to both students and staff. This included a survey where students could indicate which subjects they were best equipped to help tutor.
“We got 50 students in the first night,” said Santi. “To date, we have over 100 signed up to volunteer, with tutors in nearly every subject, language, and in fields like visual art and digital media.”
With an extensive network of volunteers, Katie Cox ’20.5 signed on to help match volunteers with children of staff. “One of my first matches was for a four year old in pre-K,” said Cox. “The goal was to create mini-lessons with counting and letter-number recognition.”
One request even came in for a tutor willing to teach French to a young student who wanted to start the language for the first time during their free time at home.
“If they ask for it, we’re going to try to make it happen,” Santi said.
The leadership team runs help and Q&A sessions for prospective tutors to get them oriented to the program. Cox says that the scheduling is done between the tutor and the parent or student, and sessions of all different frequencies and lengths have been created across the program.
“Even a session as short as 15 minutes can be helpful, especially for much younger kids,” Cox said.
“It’s valuable to just have the opportunity to socialize, even if actual tutoring is hard,” Santi said. “Young kids have a harder time socializing than college students — they’re not exactly on Zoom all the time.”
In emails to Marshall, the feedback from parents has been consistent and full of praise. “This is fantastic! What a great community we have!” one parent wrote. “WOW,” wrote another. “This brought tears to my eyes. How absolutely wonderful of the students! Love this Middlebury Community,” a third wrote.
Marshall’s own son joined the program and was matched with Bella Pucker ’21.5.
"My kindergartener met with his tutor, Bella, this morning and it was wonderful,” said Marshall. “She was very personable and asked Owen lots of questions — and Owen seemed to like her and can’t wait to show her more dinosaur books!”
Tutors are finding creative ways to teach from afar. Furgang talked about a Spanish tutor who used objects in their student’s room to teach vocabulary. Santi shared a story about a first grader, whose father described his art as, “explosive, messy, and completely wonderful,” being paired with a Middlebury art student to continue his love for art.
“We’re seeing a sort of a domino effect in these families,” said Santi. “Once one signs up, then the rest of the kids in the family want in.”
Santi says the plan is to continue the program through the end of the Addison County school year, but hopes that others can take on the torch after she graduates to continue this relationship between students and staff.
“We want to continue to give back to staff and get to a point where staff feel that students have their back,” said Furgang.
Furgang stressed a similar point about the effort, pointing to student support of higher staff wages and efforts like Mutual Aid in the wake of the pandemic, and hopes these efforts forge a stronger bond within the community.
One parent even asked if she could reimburse students for their tutoring work, which shocked the leaders.
“We laughed, because this is a way for us to pay back staff who have done so much for us,” Santi said.
Porter Bowman ’21.5 is the Senior Opinions Editor.
He previously served as the Correspondent to the Student Government Association (SGA) and a Staff Writer for the News and Local sections.
Bowman is pursuing an International Politics and Economics major and a History minor.
During the summer of 2020, Bowman started a podcast called “Why Not U.S.?” where he interviewed young people in their 20s serving in political office across the country.
He also worked as a producer and researcher for “Trickeration,” an investigative sports podcast from iHeartMedia hosted by Campus alum Matt Waxman ’01.5.
When not watching the West Wing or finishing crossword puzzles, Bowman plays on the Middlebury varsity golf team alongside basketball, club tennis, and intramural volleyball.
He lost on Teen Jeopardy! in November 2016.