March 09, 2021

Before the pandemic, special education major Raelyn Lares ’22 interacted with elementary students through classroom observations at various local schools. She also volunteered at an after-school program where she guided K–2 students with their homework and led educational games and activities.

Once the pandemic hit, those experiences came to a halt.

“It has been extremely hard losing these interactions, especially the after-school program,” Lares said. “I made so many connections with the students and going from seeing them twice a week to not at all has been heartbreaking.”

In the face of losing in-person contact with her students, Lares was eager to turn her attention to United We Learn, a virtual tutoring program developed by the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way in close partnership with our Johnson Center for Civic Engagement and Bucknell University.

Launched during the fall 2020 semester, United We Learn pairs college students with K–12 students from a wide area around Susquehanna, including Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties, for online tutoring and academic mentorship.

Lares, through her work as an SU Service Leader with the United Way, helped to create the training Susquehanna students must undergo before they can be matched with a student mentee, a process she also manages.

One of those tutors is Erin Holland ’21, also a Service Leader placed with the United Way. Like Lares, she also saw her in-person instruction options evaporate with the onset of the pandemic.

“I was supposed to complete my practicum in the fall, then my student teaching this semester at Shikellamy High School. Because of the higher risk of bringing college students into the school district along with the students and teachers, my experience has been entirely remote,” Holland said. “It was really hard to lose that in-person interaction with these students because I feel so disconnected from them.”

Holland recently began tutoring a student in the Shikellamy Virtual Academy in mathematics, Holland’s major, and she said the experience has been wonderful.

“It is super fulfilling to have one-on-one instructional time with a student who is learning the same content that I am teaching to my students,” she said. “I feel like it is benefitting me as a student teacher while also helping the student, so I am loving it!”

The pandemic has turned education upside down. Lares and Holland believe virtual services like United We Learn are crucial for students and parents to persevere during this stressful time.

“This is an extremely important service to offer parents and families, especially of students who have moved to remote learning,” Holland said. “Not every family has the resources to help their students who may be struggling.”

“Online tutoring doesn’t require transportation,” Lares added. “Parents don’t have to worry about getting their children to a certain destination on time and with the elimination of travel time, there is more time for tutoring.”

After graduation, Lares plans to become a learning support or autism spectrum disorder classroom teacher, with plans to eventually transition into education administration. Holland hopes to become a high school mathematics teacher.