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FrogTutoring, with locations all over the county, pairs students with specialized tutors for help with their schoolwork. Because of school closures in March, more parents are showing interest in tutoring services so their child doesn't fall behind. Image via FrogTutoring.

published on June 26, 2020 - 1:08 PM
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It’s been a long day at work. After heading home during rush hour, your child asks you for help with some type of algebra you haven’t seen since high school. This has become the reality for many parents since the coronavirus forced the closing of schools across the country.

Prior to the current grade school summer vacation, and in midst of the statewide lockdown, students were taking their lessons and doing their homework primarily online, receiving some teacher’s lectures through video conferencing technology.

There has been increasing investment in educational technologies (edtech) even before the outbreak of COVID-19. Global edtech investment reached $18.6 billion in 2019, according to a report from market research firm Metaari, “The 2019 Global Learning Technology Investment Patterns: Another Record Shattering Year.”

Without the guidance and routine provided by the classroom environment, many students have faltered when it comes to their academic performance. This has led parents to search for different avenues of education during the public health crisis.

Roland Omene founded Texas-based FrogTutoring LLC, a private tutoring and educational resource company, in 2009. Since then, he has expanded its operations across the country, including Fresno.

Omene said that in the first few weeks of the outbreak, FrogTutoring saw a 50-60% drop in demand for its services.

Exams and tests are what drive the need for tutors, Omene, said, and with schools not holding any in-person classes, and students just doing online homework, parents didn’t feel the pressure to spend their money on tutoring services.

“There’s no consequences for failure,” Omene said. “There is no serious exams so we kind of saw a dip in demand, but as the crisis goes on, things are getting back to normal. We’re doing more than what we used to do before as of right now.”

As more kids were learning from home, Omene said that many parents were realizing that they couldn’t adequately watch over and assist with their child’s schoolwork and started looking for tutoring services.

The demand isn’t just coming from parents with children in grade school, but also from college students who, because of temporary university closures, do not have the resources usually available on a college campus.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, FrogTutoring was sending tutors to the homes of about 75% of its students, while teaching the rest online. The company is now doing about 93% of its tutoring online, Omene said.

While many younger students are apt at completing their studies online, not all students learn effectively without the in-person guidance, said Omene, especially children whose first language may not be English.

Omene has observed that a child applies themselves more diligently with tutors who are seen as more of a teacher than with a familiar figure such as a parent.

“You’re not just a parent, but now you’re also trying to be a teacher to that child. That could create friction between the parent and the student, and it tends to effect their relationship outside of education. Sometimes parents have the knowledge, but it’s sometimes difficult to teach your own child,” Omene said.

Omene only expects the demands for tutoring services to go up across all of FrogTutoring’s locations, even when kids do go back to school, because he predicts that many kids will have some issues getting back on track right away.

Mandy Gill, owner of ABC Private Tutoring in Fresno, shut down operations right when schools were closed in the middle of March.

The tutors working for ABC come through Fresno State and are working to one day become teachers, and with about 10 of them on staff, each one was tutoring about five to six students each.

“I feel like everything is going to move to Zoom,” Gill said. “I feel a lot of people still won’t be comfortable doing the one-on-one, but there is still going to be people that need tutoring. I feel the service will transition to be online because kids are still going to need help no matter what.”

Though Gill expects there will still be people demanding tutoring services, she expects people to be more apprehensive of parents dropping their children off at tutoring facilities.

The tutors were classified as independent contractors, but due to the drop in demand, she has had to let them go. She also closed the ABC office location since rent was a burden.

“I’m honestly just praying for a good next year. This year, I already have the feeling that it’s not going to work out, and I thank God I have a little bit of my savings to use,” Gill said.

As challenging as schoolwork might be during this public health crisis, it could be even more challenging for special needs students.

Currently, grade schools are slated to return in-class sessions in the fall, and the Fresno County Office of Education is taking care to provide a safe and healthy environment for both staff and students, as well as putting a careful focus on its special needs students.

“We are looking at the social distancing and how that will work, especially with our students with special needs, and making sure we have appropriate PPE on hand. Right now is when we are trying to ramp up for the return and make sure all of the supports are in place for them,” said Tina Frazier, chief students services officer for the office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.

Tangee Pinheiro, executive director of student services for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools office, said that lesson plans, stories and even math equations will touch on topics regarding social distancing and cleanliness to help special needs students grasp the concepts.

Frazier said there are areas in the county where they are trying to determine how to reach all students, and the county programs from the superintendent’s office have students with the most severe needs. Teaching them via online learning is not always an option.

In Fresno County there are 9,290 special needs students, with Fresno Unified alone having 8,690 special needs students. Clovis Unified has 3,939 special needs students.

“Some of them are non-verbal, some of them have medical issues, and so it has been more of a challenge to serve those types of students. It is a giant spectrum of kids with special needs that we are attempting to serve,” Frazier said.

Brian Beck, assistant superintendent of special education and health services for Fresno Unified School District (FUSD), noted that they are preparing to ensure that all students get the best education they can get in a safe and healthy environment, but that each special education student has an “individualized education plan” that is tailored for their unique needs.

“Even though we talk about special education as if it’s some bucket of work, it’s important to realize that most special education is about working with each individual student for their individual needs, to make sure they have the same access and the same opportunities as general education students to the greatest extent possible,” Beck said.

There are plans for teachers and staff to always have access to PPE and though there will be some challenges, Beck said that special education teachers, because of the smaller classroom sizes, get to have more individual time with students.

Beck said that the community has to look over its most vulnerable in a time like this, and that includes our special needs children, as they deserve the same learning opportunities as anyone else.

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