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Initiative offers pupils free tutoring on Zoom

by Cynthia Howell | April 19, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Online, small-group tutoring in math, science and for college entrance exams and other tests is now available at no cost to middle and high school students.

The Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and the new nonprofit organization Schoolhouse.World are partnering to provide students with the tutoring in their homes or any other place where they can access the Zoom meeting platform.

Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, calculus, chemistry, physics and preparation for Advanced Placement exams and the ACT college entrance exam are some of the subjects that are being provided by volunteer but closely monitored tutors -- some of whom are teachers but others who are in other professions or are current high school and college students.

"We are excited about this new partnership, which brings high-quality tutoring to Arkansas students at no charge," state Education Secretary Johnny Key said.

"I want to also encourage Arkansas educators, students and community members to consider signing up to become tutors. This platform offers a great opportunity not only for learners who need additional assistance but also Arkansans who can share their knowledge and expertise with students around the world."

The online tutoring sessions generally are two to six attendees and can be accessed during the school year and summer. All sessions are conducted through Zoom. To maximize security, sessions and student interactions are recorded and monitored. Students ages 13 and up can scan through the menu of sessions to find one that covers the topic in which they need help.

As of Friday, the Schoolhouse.World menu included nearly 200 sessions from which students can choose. Additionally, there are provisions to create sessions to meet the needs of a student.

Schoolhouse.World is a year-old nonprofit organization, the founders of which include Sal Khan, the New Orleans native and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who just over a decade ago saw his efforts to send short video-recorded lessons to family and friends mushroom into the Khan Academy of more than 6,000-recorded single-concept tutorials available to all ages for free viewing.

"Hi everyone in Arkansas," Khan says in a video message on a Elementary and Secondary Education Division website about the Schoolhouse.World tutoring sessions.

Khan and Shishir Mehrotra, co-founder and chief executive officer of Coda, established Schoolhouse.World in response to students falling behind academically because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is a byproduct of the pandemic but something we hope will have benefits well beyond the pandemic," Khan said. "Now you can get on-demand help from Khan Academy but now you can also get real live in-person tutoring for free.

"If you need a video explanation and you want to practice, think of Khan Academy," he continued. "If you want to be connected to tutors and join small-group tutoring sessions with students from across the state and actually the country and even the world, go to Schoolhouse.World. You can say what you need help in and there will be people who will help you -- high-quality vetted tutors."

Khan said there are already learners and tutors from Arkansas involved in the tutoring initiative, adding that "one of our top tutors is from the state."

Drew Brent, chief operating officer for Schoolhouse.World, on Friday identified that tutor as Kate Pearce, a Bentonville High sophomore who has a strong interest in research in computer science.

Pearce is working to develop a tutoring system as part of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology project for high school students. She also is involved in an effort at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville to develop better imaging techniques for breast cancer.

"I've always been an avid user of Khan Academy, and I saw the platform mentioned in an article on the Khan Academy site while studying calculus," Pearce said in response to emailed questions to her on Friday about Schoolhouse.World. "I saw that they were looking for tutors, so I submitted an application and started tutoring.

"I usually tutor SAT math and general algebra/high school math," she said. "My sessions normally take place in the evenings over Zoom and are about 40 minutes in length. Class sizes can vary -- while my algebra question and answer sessions typically only have a few students, my SAT sessions generally have about 10 to 20 students."

Pearce said she believes the free, personalized tutoring program can be widely beneficial.

"Students of any background are able to receive quality support in standardized test prep and high school math classes, and are able to choose the times and methods of instruction that work best for them," she said. "In the midst of efforts to improve the quality of education in our state, especially in STEM subjects, this platform can help students succeed in school and prepare them for the challenges that the future throws at us."

Arkansas is one of the first states to partner with the tutoring resource, Brent said. Others are Colorado, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Nevada, North Dakota and New Hampshire

More information about Arkansas tutoring partnership is available at https://bit.ly/2RDLMJN and at Schoolhouse.World.

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