Senior Bri Davies with a second grader during a virtual tutoring session for her non-profit, Generation Great. (Photo: Davies)

Generation Great: Gone virtual

With a long and hectic road to resuming tutoring  after the COVID-19 lockdown, Generation Great is back in full swing and operating effectively. 

My nonprofit was initially founded in fall of 2018 to serve youth in the Oak Park community through tutoring and mentoring. Youth were tutored three days a week at the Oak Park Community Center where tutors helped with homework and backfilled in areas of weakness with supplemental curriculum and materials.

But let’s rewind to March 13, 2020 — the day I had to send a text to all youth and volunteers breaking the news that Generation Great Tutoring and Mentoring operations would be temporarily suspended. 

From there, I had to figure out what was next.

How soon until things would be back? 

Keep in mind, this was originally supposed to be a two-week break; so much for that!

What would schedules look like?

Would the Oak Park Community Center reopen?

After patiently waiting and seeing no near end to the pandemic, I had to come up with an alternative approach to tutoring these children. It was so important, especially in a time like this, to maintain the connections the kids had made with my volunteers not only as tutors, but also as mentors. I adopted the strategy that schools are using: the infamous “Zoom teaching.”

The Virtual Summer Program launched at the beginning of August.

Would it even work?

The majority of my kids had no access to personalized technology. Many kids struggle with attention issues in person, so I could only imagine the new challenge of keeping them engaged and focused over a video call.

Many had parents who were absent or worked all day long, leaving their kid at home. Left to their own devices, I wasn’t sure how they would log on to Zoom at the right time with the right materials every afternoon. 

Let’s just say, I had some obstacles to maneuver around.

I designed a personalized curriculum for each of the kids over the summer to backfill and supplement in areas of weakness, and in some cases, help kids get ahead. They each received a package of reading and writing practice, math practice and a chapter book to read daily. 

Junior Jesus Aispuro, freshman Delsyn Beaton and two other high school tutors work with a third grader during a virtual tutoring session. (Photo courtesy of Bri Davies)

On the first day of my summer program, I logged online to greet each kid, and I asked each of them how their summers had been.

We laughed about the weird circumstances, and we exchanged, “I miss you’s.” But the next sentence that would follow was quite shocking.

As I went to each kid individually, they ALL proceeded to tell me that over the spring semester they had received NO work from their schools. That meant, since March 13, when we were all issued the stay-at-home order, no school had been held for these children. That’s ridiculous.

I knew then it was that much more important to make this new format as flawless and effective as possible.

Not to say that there weren’t days with internet issues and miscommunications, but I truly commend all of my tutors and youth for adapting to this new style of teaching and learning so seamlessly.

The summer program went well, and as school started remotely, we began our fall program virtually as well.

The format looks similar to that of the summer program, and we are surprisingly finding great success in it. My kids are consistently doing well on math exams and reading checkpoints, and they still enjoy the tutoring format, even though it’s much different than before.

Sessions are now only 45 minutes, and 100% of the time is devoted to academics. Each kid has a personal tutor, and in some cases, more than one.

 I have five students from Country Day shadowing my current tutors and training to become tutors.

After a lot of growing pains, I can say that Generation Great’s virtual program is running much better than I imagined.

Without minimizing the incredible dedication of our tutors and the eager desire to learn from the kids, I would have to say that the success of the program rests, above all, with the incredible commitment of the kids’ parents.

The parents have put up with technical glitches and rescheduled sessions, yet they never lost faith and worked with us to correct glitches.

They took calls at work, took pictures of homework packets to send me via email, met in parking lots, elementary schools and on sidewalks in front of pizza places to exchange supplemental workbooks and materials.

Thanks to their dedication to their kids’ education, we were able to redesign the program, adjust and work through logistics and ultimately deliver effective academic support.

All this has brought an unexpected turn. With the unfortunate advent of virtual tutoring, new doors have opened. After one of our most cherished families battled homelessness last winter, they moved away to seek help from relatives; even though they now live hours away, their three kids are still able to receive tutoring from us virtually!

My hope is, we never lose touch with the kids we start to serve. Virtual learning has made that possible.

I now also have college tutors living in Davis who couldn’t otherwise participate if my program weren’t virtual.

But most importantly, I now can be in two places at once!

I always had hopes to expand to a second location to help another underserved community, but before COVID, this seemed like a somewhat impossible task. I didn’t want to sacrifice my time with my kids from Oak Park, but I also really wanted to reach as many children as possible, including those in other communities.

Now, I can!

This August, I met with one of the pastors at my church, who gave me the name and contact information of an affordable housing complex in need of academic help and guidance.

I’m actively recruiting more volunteers to expand to this venue, and I’m so excited to see what the future holds — not only for the new kids I have yet to meet, but also for my wonderful kids who have already grown leaps and bounds and forever hold a special place in my heart.

While I can’t wait to get back to tutoring in person, this new virtual format will forever be an added dimension to my program, as it ensures we reach kids farther than a car ride away.

— By Bri Davies

Sacramento Country Day senior Briana Davies launched the “Generation Great” blog in 2019 after starting a tutoring and mentoring program by the same name. Country Day students can earn volunteer credit as tutors by enrolling in SCDS’s “Generation Great Elective.” Founded in 2018, Generation Great is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status. For more information, visit Briana’s website: generationgreat.wixsite.com/outreach.