Lehigh’s Community Service Office (CSO), which works directly with local schools, has had to rethink its approach to tutoring programs, as many young students remain unvaccinated.
Current CDC guidance recommends all individuals 12 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccination. A vaccine for children under 12 is not yet authorized, leaving about 48 million children unprotected against the virus in the U.S.
These unvaccinated children present new challenges for their families, as well as their teachers and staff at their schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Carolina Hernandez, assistant dean of students and director of the CSO, said student volunteers have returned to working in person with students in the community.
“We are reassessing all the programs that we typically do at the schools in partnership with the (Bethlehem Area) School District,” Hernandez said. “We don’t want to make those determinations without the school district having an equal voice in that process.”
Ethan Kramer, ‘23, a CSO volunteer, has worked as a tutor at local schools for the past three years. Kramer said CSO tutoring is fully in person again and tutors and site leaders are getting back into the classrooms and interacting with students on a daily basis.
He said the size of the group of kids allowed in the different homework clubs has changed.
“The general feeling I get is that the kids are excited to be back in person,” Kramer said. “They’re excited to build those relationships.”
Paige Hoffman, community school coordinator at Fountain Hill Elementary School, works directly with unvaccinated students every day.
“All of our students, staff and visitors are required to be masked throughout the day,” Hoffman said. “Even though it’s normal in some ways, there are still a lot of parameters in place to try to keep the kids healthy.”
Students and staff at Fountain Hill are also required to participate in close-contact tracing and maintain a three-foot distance at all times if possible, Hoffman said.
Hoffman said Fountain Hill aims to be mindful about the current circumstances students are in and decide when it is necessary to engage in an in-person context versus a virtual one.
“The beauty of the past year has been that we’ve really had to flex our technology muscle,” Hoffman said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kramer’s responsibilities changed. Instead of tutoring students in person, he moved his sessions online.
“It definitely hurts the ability to really connect with the kids because there’s a lot less actual back and forth and talking to them,” Kramer said.
Without in-person opportunities for teaching and tutoring, schools came up with alternatives, Kramer said. The CSO created a YouTube channel for tutors to upload videos to, which students had access to.
Hernandez said despite having to exist in a virtual space, there are still meaningful experiences to be had for students.
As in person activities resume, students are able to experience the full effects of the CSO’s offered programs such as homework clubs. Kramer said tutors encourage the kids to try academically enriching activities such as flashcards, history, geography and trivia.
Kramer works as a site leader, so he ensures the students volunteering process functions smoothly.
“We’re on site every day,” Kramer said. “We walk around, we talk to the kids, we make sure the tutors are doing okay.”