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Many Anne Arundel parents turn to tutoring to help children with online learning

Carly and John Knott, live in Severna Park with their children, from left, Martin, James and Elana. Martin and Elana are working with tutors..
Carly and John Knott, live in Severna Park with their children, from left, Martin, James and Elana. Martin and Elana are working with tutors.. (HANDOUT)

A Severna Park parent recreated a classroom in the basement of her home and on the days she can, will sit next to her 7-year-old to help online learning though she saw the first grader struggle to keep up.

But Carly Knott also hired tutors, a decision she started to make after the challenges that popped up last spring as schools had to pivot quickly online in response to the pandemic.

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“They were just learning to write sentences and just starting to read sight words and everything stopped,” Knott said.

This school year, Anne Arundel public school students have signed onto Google Classrooms and learned from home, or in learning centers. Some students have struggled with the online environment.

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Some tutoring companies in the county found that services and calls are going up as parents search for ways to help supplement learning.

Knott’s daughter was falling behind as her teacher “picked up as if they had completed kindergarten,” she said.

“I knew that there was no way that she was going to be able to keep up with what was being asked.”

Despite the expenses, Knott said two of her children needed some extra help. Her son, a senior at Severna Park High, uses a 504 plan for additional academic accommodations but was not getting the same level of services so Knott hired a tutor for three days a week.

She also found private tutors to help her daughter with reading skills.

In the summer as school systems announced plans for the upcoming year, primarily going online, parents reached out to companies in numbers that quintupled for Maryland Teacher Tutors.

“We just got calls over calls over calls because essentially parents felt like last semester was a failure for a variety of reasons,” CEO Natalie Mangrum said in a September interview.

As the summer came to an end she said the sense of urgency began declining but there were two groups of parents who reached out — those who planned ahead just in case and those who gave the online learning a chance before signing up for tutoring.

Mangrum noted that parents are also feeling “technologically exhausted” as many things have moved online to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Some families also need help with younger students as many children look to parents for help during the day, Mangrum said.

Kaitlin Gaj, director of Total Tutoring Services, said many of the families who reach out for services have elementary children, mostly early childhood, who need help with math and reading. Since the start of the semester, her company saw a 30% increase in new students compared to last school year, she said in an email.

“It is so hard to teach over a computer and it is so hard at that age to sit and stay engaged and enthusiastic and focused for that long,” said Gaj, who used to teach kindergarten.

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Tutors at her company can help students after school by “filling in the gaps” that may have been missed while online, she explained.

Knott uses the basement as a makeshift class, she said. On days without a tutor, Knott sits by her daughter from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at night they will read together.

“We’re trying to make it as close to a school setting as possible but time is not on our side,” she said.

Hiring a tutor also comes with a price. Maryland Teacher Tutors for online tutoring begins at $50 and in-person starts at $79 though the company will work with parents on a case by case basis, Mangrum said. Total Tutoring offers an hourly rate of $59, according to the website.

“Tutoring is a paid service and its not something that – unfortunately – everybody can afford," Gaj said, adding that in a normal (non-pandemic) year some families would still not be able to afford services.

“I do think virtual learning just makes it a lot more difficult for those students who don’t have the option of having extra resources like tutoring.”

Knott said paying for private tutors has been a big expense but is not as expensive as private school, another option she considered.

Tutoring companies have also adapted to the pandemic to be as safe as possible. Gaj said tutors and students wear face masks, take temperatures before the appointments and go through a general checklist for symptoms.

Tutors also take learning outside on days with better weather, she said.

The weather is getting colder and people are forced indoors more often. Knott said her new tutor will be able to provide six more sessions.

But some county schools are set to reopen.

The school system presented a plan to introduce hybrid learning for elementary students. For Knott, she signed up for the hybrid model of two days in-person and three days online.

“We absolutely want our kids to be back in school,” Knott said.

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