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Nonprofit View: COVID-19 drives implementation of virtual learning for Literacy Council | COMMENTARY

Since 1979, the Literacy Council of Carroll County has helped adult learners reach their personal educational, career, and life goals. Personalized programs and tutoring are tailored to the needs of each learner, with topics ranging from English, math, citizenship, writing a resume, and financial literacy, to preparation for licensing exams (such as the written portion of the Commercial Drivers License).

All materials and tutoring are free. Our clients are referred to us by our community partners and also self-refer, and have a wide range of education and skill levels. Some students are working on boosting their academic skills in math and reading. Some English language learners are starting with basic spoken English, while others have more advanced skills.

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The hallmark of our program is the confidential, in-person, one-on-one tutoring provided by our volunteer tutors. As with other education programs, the pandemic threw a wrench into our learning model. The health concerns and restrictions meant that our tutor-learner teams could not meet in person. Clearly it was time to implement a virtual learning model. Our challenges included: 1. A focus on printed/paper based academic materials, 2. The tutors' and learners' technological skills and comfort levels, 3. Learners and tutors without internet and/or computer access, and 4. A lack of resources to purchase the needed equipment.

We were extremely fortunate to receive state and county grant funding to cover a portion of the cost of implementing virtual learning. To address one of the major technological barriers to virtual learning — lack of equipment — we used the funding to purchase some Chromebooks.

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As we distribute the limited number of Chromebooks to clients and tutors, more learners have reengaged and are making progress toward their goals. With a small group of learners and tutors, we are doing of trial of on-line programs; in addition, several learners are successfully learning English virtually. However, there are still ongoing challenges to virtual learning such as internet access, which we are addressing on a case by case basis.

The virtual learning model is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some of our current tutors prefer the personal contact and connections they make through one-on-one, in-person tutoring, and/or are not comfortable with virtual tutoring. As a result, they have opted to wait to tutor again till a COVID vaccine is available. Therefore, we are seeking additional tutors who are comfortable with virtual learning and can help fill the gap.

On the plus side, the Literacy Council views virtual learning as a path forward to solve common blocks to learning such as lack of transportation and scheduling issues.

And virtual learning provides a way for us to tailor programs to the individual needs of clients seeking to develop their skills in order to succeed in their current position, qualify for a new position, or re-enter the workforce. As we continue to implement virtual learning, the Literacy Council looks forward to better serving the needs of our community. Please consider supporting us on Tuesday, Dec. 1, #GivingTuesday at www.literacyccmd.org.

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Rebecca Arenson-Rachlinski is the outreach and grants director for the Literary Council of Carroll County.

Each Monday, the Carroll County Times publishes a column from a local nonprofit, allowing them to share information about their organization and the issues facing it, as our editorial. To be considered, email cctnews@carrollcountytimes.com with the subject line “Nonprofit View.”

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