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Diocesan schools in West Virginia create tutoring program to tackle students’ remote learning challenges

This story was published in the Dec. 4, 2020 edition of the Wheeling Intelligencer and is reprinted with permission.

WHEELING – To help students deal with the challenges of remote learning, leaders of the Catholic schools that are part of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are being proactive by forming a partnership with Wheeling University and Franciscan University of Steubenville students for remote tutoring.

Talks between the three entities began in June and principals were able to sign up for individualized tutoring for their schools for the fall. Soon-to-be teachers at the two universities were then assigned to certain students, schools, and curriculum. The program continued into the fall semester. 

“We hope to continue the program in the spring, when the universities are back in session,”said Theresa DiPiero, director of curriculum and instruction. “However, as with everything we have gone through this year, we know we have to be flexible and adapt our programing to fit the situation.”

The program has been a win-win for the Catholic schools and the collegiate institutions, DiPiero said.

“This partnership is very important as we all work together to prepare our future teachers to instruct in dual learning environments,” Susan Poyo, director of education at Franciscan University of Steubenville, said. “I think it may be safe to say that prior to the pandemic, the idea of an online learning environment being an actual classroom was a bit obscure. Yet, here we are as teacher-educators realizing that if we are to truly prepare educators to instruct students, they will need to be prepared for dual-learning environments. The Oxford dictionary explains the word Dual to mean consisting of two parts, elements or aspects. The two elements or aspects we now see as a reality is face to face and online, which includes synchronous and asynchronous instruction. And they are definitely two parts or elements because you cannot take what you do in one learning environment and try to simply replicate in the other.”

“Because of COVID-19 safety precautions in our buildings we were not able to have anyone outside of the building staff and students in our schools,” Diocese associate superintendent for Accreditation and Technology Jennifer Hornyak said. “This brought about a lot of roadblocks we had to figure out how to get around — and do so quickly and effectively. Having the ability to bring in qualified, well prepared, and impressive students from both Wheeling University and Franciscan University on a virtual platform was the ideal fit. It’s that thinking outside the box that benefits our students, our teachers, and these university students who would not be able to have this hands-on teaching experience otherwise.”

Because the Catholic schools around the state were fortunate enough to attend school five days a week for most of the fall, tutoring was able to take place at the schools with the student’s remote tutor based in Wheeling or Steubenville either before school, during flex periods or after school, Hornyak said. 

All three partners in the program are from faith-filled institutions, which brings about a strong obligation to see and find the good in all circumstances. Even in a pandemic, good things can arise. 

“I see virtual tutoring as an important piece to online learning for students across all grade levels with the recent need to provide education through alternative pathways,” said Sherri Theaker, director of education and accreditation coordinator at Wheeling University. 

“The opportunity to partner with DWC Schools has allowed my students to experience the technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) necessary for online instruction,”Poyo added.  “Tutoring is a perfect way for pre-service teachers to gain valuable experience building relationships with PK-12 students, assessing student needs, designing instruction and managing students in an online learning environment. Offering teacher candidates opportunities to integrate the knowledge they are gaining in teacher prep programs with field experiences in virtual contexts through collaboration with school partnerships is what is needed.It provides authentic learning context for assignments, for ‘connecting the dots’ and promotes deep learning. We are so pleased that DWC Schools has partnered with us as our service to them is a learning experience for everyone … completely a win-win for everyone involved.”

This fall more than 60 students in Catholic schools in Wheeling, Weirton, Parkersburg, Fairmont, Huntington, and Charleston were able to benefit from the remote tutoring program. Students were tutored in math and reading at the K-8 grade level, with students from the high schools being tutored in specific subjects like microeconomics and organic chemistry. 

In all, 33 university students provided the extra help, 16 of those from Franciscan and 17 from Wheeling University.