Volunteer In Paradise goes virtual to support PVSchools teachers and students - AZEdNews
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Volunteer In Paradise goes virtual to support PVSchools teachers and students

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  • Marisha Geraghty   |   Paradise Valley Unified School District

A Student Works With His Tutor In An Online Learning Format In Paradise Valley Unified School District. Photo Courtesy Paradise Valley Unified School District

The award-winning Volunteer In Paradise Program (VIP) in the Paradise Valley Unified School District expanded its offering to provide virtual tutoring to its students and volunteers this summer. VIP hoped to address the combined impact of the pandemic and summer slide on its students and volunteers.

VIP Coordinator, Marisha Geraghty’s, vision for VIP is, “to leverage virtual tutoring in the future to offer greater flexibility for teachers, students, and volunteers by extending tutoring outside the regular school day and year.”

In existence for eight years, VIP has traditionally offered on-campus tutoring during the school year. Volunteers called VIPs support teachers and students by providing one-on-one and small group instruction in reading and math to the most at-risk students in PVSchools.

PVSchools video: Volunteer in Paradise at Desert Shadows

The 130 volunteers that makeup VIP have become an integral tool for K-8 teachers to provide the individual support some students need to succeed. More than 37 percent of these highly qualified volunteers are retired educators. Volunteer In Paradise is in the midst of pursuing its Service Enterprise certification from Points of Light.

Before launching the Virtual Tutoring Pilot this summer, VIP polled its volunteers to gauge their level of interest. Not surprising in the current environment, the results of the poll showed 60 percent of volunteers expressed interest in this safer option. Next, one of the Title I schools already familiar with the VIP program was approached to see if teachers had students in need of extra help with literacy.

Ultimately, 29 first graders from Campo Bello Elementary and 21 VIPs participated in the Virtual Tutoring Pilot. Many of the participating students and volunteers had pre-existing relationships from working together on campus earlier in the year. The highly structured pilot began in the middle of May and was originally scheduled to run six weeks for the second language learners with the instruction focus being sight word mastery.

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However, the response to the program was so positive by volunteers, students, and parents alike that VIP decided to extend the pilot by another four weeks through the end of July giving the students one full week before online school starts and a total of 10 weeks of tutoring.

The pilot provided an opportunity for students and volunteers to reconnect during a time of isolation. VIP Cathy McKeever shared, “The opportunity to make a difference in a kid’s life is what I like about being a VIP.  It doesn’t matter to me if that is virtual or in-person.”

Tutors not only provided instruction but they provided social-emotional support to the students. While online this summer with their student’s virtual tutors celebrated students’ birthdays, they sang together, students shared their breakfast, their siblings, and new puppy litters. The students provided smiles and a purpose to the tutors.

Volunteer In Paradise goes virtual to support PVSchools teachers and students VIP-Photo-2-1000
A student works with his tutor in an online learning format in Paradise Valley Unified School District. Photo courtesy Paradise Valley Unified School District

PVSchools is very pleased with the results of the pilot.

Campo Bello Elementary Principal Jerry Withers offered, “This has been an amazing experiment that impacted our first graders learning. This is supporting our goal of closing the learning gap for our second language learners. Without the ongoing support from our VIPs, we could not accomplish this.” 

The experience inspired students and volunteers alike, giving a shining purpose to both during a very difficult time for all.

As volunteer Kim Ludwig put it, “This is not just good for the children but also good for me, we had many new learning experiences.”

While there were challenges, including student attendance, technology, and distracting learning environments. None of these challenges were insurmountable. By the end of the summer, the students had a 73 percent attendance rate and a 51 percent on-time rate. In addition to logging a total of 432 sessions and 110 hours of tutoring, on average there was a 78 percent growth in sight words mastered by the students.

The VIPs virtual tutoring skills blossomed with every session and many were assigned to train other VIPs on how to tutor students online. Students and tutors alike learned a great deal about how technology can best be leveraged to learn.

With much learned from the pilot, VIP is better prepared to support teachers and students by leveraging its virtual experience and is looking forward to offering greater flexibility in the ways that they support the PVSchools community.

For more information about Volunteer In Paradise visit its website at PVSchools.net/VIP or contact Marisha Geraghty at VolunteerInParadise@PVSchools.net.