In mid-March, Isabel Arboleda and Brooke Patel were deep into their college studies, looking forward to wrapping up their freshman year and planning summer jobs and volunteer work.
Then Isabel, who attends Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, was told her classes were moving online. Diagnoses of COVID-19 were climbing dramatically. The campus ramped up measures for social distancing and disinfecting common areas. Eventually, students were sent home.
Brooke, who attends the University of Arizona in Tucson, was already home on spring break. “Everyone figured we’d be coming back [to campus],” she said. “By midweek we didn’t know if we were coming back. By the end of the week we were told not to come back.” She returned only briefly, to pick up her things and take them home.
Since then, both young women, who are close friends and graduates of Chaparral High School in the Scottsdale Unified School District, have been fulfilling their college coursework online. So they know a thing or two about virtual learning, the challenges of self-motivation during lock-down and the isolation young people can feel when they lose daily contact with friends and peers.
They also felt compelled to put their considerable energy to good use during a community crisis.
“We were talking about doing something,” Brooke said. “Both of us were antsy. We both have experience in a healthcare setting but with all the restrictions, it’s hard to help there. What else could we do?”
“It’s hard to see the news, everything that’s going on with hospitals, the economy, people needing food,” Isabel added. They also saw how families were struggling with the switch to home schooling after Arizona’s K-12 schools closed in mid-March.
These two high achievers decided to channel their energy there.
They started a free tutoring service called Moving Forward Together, and began matching college-age tutors with middle- and high-school-age students who needed an extra boost with academics, or just some support for the adjustment to virtual learning.
They started by reaching out to their friends, who are “incredibly smart, graduated top of their class, attending schools like Duke, Emory, William and Mary, Barrett…” Isabel said. “The majority have had experience tutoring in the past, doing volunteer work.” They were able to recruit nine volunteers right off the bat; they now have 14.
Sessions are conducted over Zoom, so tutors can share their screens, use the white board function and access the student’s online documents. Sessions range from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on what kind of support is needed. Volunteers can help with almost any academic subject area, along with SAT and ACT preparation.
MFT tutors have an edge, they believe.
“We’re going through online school now ourselves,” Brooke said. “We know how it works. We’re learning from our teachers — how they’re teaching us.”
“We are students helping other students,” Isabel added. “We’ve been through it, but we’re also in it right now. We understand the pressures.”
In lieu of fees, volunteer tutors are suggesting families make donations to an organization providing COVID-19 relief. The Moving Forward Together website lists some options: Feeding America, Donate PPE, Pizza Vs Pandemic, Samaritan’s Purse and local food banks.
“It’s really cool what these big organizations are doing,” Brooke said. “We would rather the money go there.”
Getting motivated is one of the biggest hurdles to learning during lock-down, Brooke and Isabel agree. So what do they do to keep motivated?
“When you’re working at home and you’re opening your computer, it’s so easy to type in Netflix,” Isabel said, smiling (over Zoom). “Getting the motivation to actually do your online classes can be a bit difficult. Just personally, I like working with people when I’m doing schoolwork and that’s a huge thing that motivates me. So just sitting there on FaceTime with friends while I’m doing my work really helps me stay motivated, or sitting with a tutor and going over something, maybe not even asking a ton of questions but just being able to ask if something comes up. Finding ways to motivate yourself is really key.”
“I agree with that,” Brooke said. “And if you’re [hanging out] on FaceTime, you’re not going to be using your phone.”
Both women emphasized the value of taking frequent breaks, and getting outside. “Look at the horizon once in awhile!” Isabel said. “Just getting out of the house wakes you up and gets your body going,” Brooke added.
“Definitely change [your clothes] right when you get up,” Isabel said. “Wash your face. If you have the opportunity to, work outside on a patio, or in the living room, or a home office. Just don’t spend every single waking moment in your room. I try to separate the spaces where I’m relaxing and where I’m doing my work.”
Tips for nervous parents
It’s tough to see kids who were doing just fine at school start to slide in an online learning environment. For parents worried about the high stakes of high school grades, especially, there is added pressure and confusion about how to help their teens succeed.
Brooke and Isabel suggest parents ask questions instead of issuing dictates.
“Ask, ‘How can I help you? If it’s taking a step back and not bothering you, that’s fine,’ ”
Brooke said. “Maybe it’s providing a little bit of structure. It doesn’t have to be much — just like an hour you set aside each day. It’s starting small and taking it day by day. In this time, if you think weeks in advance, nobody knows what the climate will be like. It’s hard to say even in the next week what will happen. Taking it day by day will help in the long run.”