Multiple organizations, including the YMCA, YWCA and the Children's Discovery Museum, have stepped in to offer day care and remote learning help for District 87 and Unit 5 students to start the school year.
But there may not be enough help for everyone who needs it.
If you want to hire someone to help your child with school work, Bloomington-Normal is a pretty good place. Illinois State University produces more teachers than any other university in the state. But even here, tutors seem to be in short supply.
Aspiring teachers at ISU are finding lots of opportunities to gain experience and make a few bucks while going to school.
“The texts just kept coming,” said ISU junior special education major Sonja Minnick, who posted her availability to tutor online; she didn't expect much response.
“I would be with my friends and I would be like, ‘Guys I got another text, then another text, then another message, then I got a phone call, then I got four emails,’” Minnick said. “There were so many and I feel really bad turning some of them away.”
Minnick said she will pick one family to help a few days a week.
Charles Frost of Normal is one of those parents who need tutoring help. Frost has third- and fourth-grade daughters. He runs his own cleaning business and wife is a nurse case manager. The Frosts want someone to help their daughters during the day, at home, so they get some personal attention.
“They are able to work at a smaller ratio of students and do it in an environment at our house, especially with the COVID situation that’s ongoing,” Frost said.
He said the family found one student teacher at ISU through a private Facebook group, but only for three days a week. Until Frost finds help the rest of the week, his girls go to virtual school at his business while he keeps half an eye on their school work.
“Which is why I opened up the business, to allow for more family time with them, which is great during--I guess you would call it the COVID times we are living in now,” Frost said.
The need for parents to work and help their children is not the only reason to find a tutor. Minnink said it's also hard to parent and teach at the same time.
“If dad is doing all of the teaching, then the dad role becomes the teacher role and the teacher role becomes the dad role,” Minnick said. “It gets tough when you are trying to teach students while also being the dad role or being the mom role.”
Parents said if you can find a college student tutor, the cost is reasonable. Other options cost more.
Julia Cresci, director at the Sylvan Learning Center in Normal, said as soon as District 87 and Unit 5 shifted to fully online for the first few months of the school year, demand soared.
“Our phone has been flooded,” said Cresci. “It was that wait-and-see what’s going to happen, and I think today it’s hitting reality and our staff has been on the phone almost non-stop.”
Cresci said even families who don't need full or half-day care want someone to provide a one-on-one approach to school work.
“They are saying, ‘It didn’t work. It didn’t work in March, April and May and I’ve tried to do things over the summer. It’s not working. We’ve got to have somebody who is engaging.’”
Cresci noted afterschool tutoring can cost $200 to $300 per month.
Math tutoring not adding up
One area where finding a tutor isn't so difficult is high school and college math. There is always a market for advanced math help.
Joe McDonald teaches math at ISU. He typically tutors close to two dozen high school and college age students. But not this year.
McDonald said tutors didn't get much work when schools shut down in the spring because students grades couldn't drop. This fall, school districts are holding students accountable for their work. He expected more demand, but so far only a few have come to him.
“It would not have surprised me if it had boomeranged like that, but I didn’t expect it to be this quiet,” he said.
McDonald said his choice to tutor online this semester might be a turnoff for some who feel in-person assistance is more effective. But he said online learning has its own plusses. He said a screen-sharing tool is basically the same thing as being in the room with students because it provides virtual access to their computer screen. He also can record their tutoring sessions so students can reference it later.
McDonald said he figures students and parents are taking a wait-and-see approach before they fork over money for a tutor.
“Once they get in and work at it for a couple weeks and see what the flow actually is, then they’ll start looking around for tutors if there really is a struggle and they’ll come out to us,” McDonald said. “We’ll be ready if they do.”
Typically, McDonald said more students sign up for tutoring after the school year begins, but nothing about this school year is typical.
Some families who can't afford a personal tutor are joining a teaching pod for small groups of children to learn with a group tutor.
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