Students have been in an odd but familiar place over the last ten months or so – home. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus began spreading throughout the Katy area just in time for spring break in 2020, …
Students have been in an odd but familiar place over the last ten months or so – home. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus began spreading throughout the Katy area just in time for spring break in 2020, schools, both public and private, switched to a remote learning model – a challenge for students, parents and educators.
“(My 6-year-old son) was at school, and he was in kindergarten at The Yellow School (at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church) and they stopped going to school in March,” said Katy area parent Goli Holtsclaw. “They did not do any distance learning for us at the time, so we kind of picked up with little things we knew that the school was doing like (Bob the Builder) books and coloring and the alphabet and things like that.”
At the time, Katy ISD moved to completely virtual schooling for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, as did most schools in the area, leaving students and parents adjusting to a new normal. A normal that saw parents like Holtsclaw trying to balance work and their children’s educations – leading her and others to area tutoring services.
Later, as schools began to reopen in the fall, KISD implemented the Katy Virtual Academy – or KVA – which saw the enrollment of about 50% of KISD students whose parents still wanted them studying safely at home. Royal ISD and KISD report approximately 70% of their students are now going to classes in-person, but that leaves about 30% of Katy area learners in virtual classrooms.
Holtsclaw said working with her son at home hadn’t been producing the results she wanted. Her son was falling behind and she noticed that he had lost some of his love of learning and seemed frustrated, where he was ordinarily a happy child.
So, she enrolled him at Sylvan Learning Center.
Dennis Butts and his wife, Cathy Butts, run the Sylvan Learning Center at 20033 I-10 in Katy where Holtsclaw enrolled her son. The Butts said Holtsclaw's son is just one of many new clients they've seen since the pandemic started.
The Butts said their experience with their own son who was generally a straight-A student but needed help with testing skills was part of the inspiration for opening the tutoring center and allowed them to recognize how important confidence is for students. One example, they said, is algebra.
“We get kids in here all the time looking for algebra help, because a lot of times replacing numbers with letters really throws kids that are good at math – it just throws them off,” said Dennis. “(It’s about) just getting them confident in the idea that, ‘Oh. That’s just taking the place of a number.’”
Regardless of the subject, and especially with tests, building students’ confidence is as much a part of teaching and tutoring as teaching the curriculum itself, the Butts said. They added that confidence is especially important during tests where children, regardless of education level, are put under pressure to perform.
Olga Ramirez of Club Z Tutoring, which provides in-home tutoring to Katy area families, agreed and said many parents are looking to tutoring companies like hers and other supplemental learning resources to help their children. Club Z is still a young business, started at the beginning of the pandemic, but has seen a consistent demand for services.
“We just got (a client in) high school that I’m sure they just got their grades and they needed help with study skills and also to get more confidence,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said she and her on-staff tutors are seeing a great deal of stress as students try to navigate learning from home. She said that, while local schools have worked hard to provide an engaging virtual learning experience, students crave one-on-one connections that a virtual environment doesn’t necessarily provide.
“The kids are really stressed. They’re frustrated. They’re lost … because they’re not going to have the interactions anymore with the teachers or have interactions with their other classmates,” Ramirez said. “And I think that’s why it’s frustrating and that’s what their parents are complaining about (their children’s) stress right now.”
Dennis said some of the parental stress is because their students aren’t at the scholastic place the parents think they should be, which then leads to a tug-of-war between parents and students. If a child dislikes reading that is too hard, pressuring the student to read at a level higher than the student’s skill allows just makes the issue more difficult for the student. Instead, he suggested building the student’s confidence by allowing them to practice at a lower level or reading along with them when more difficult material is required for a course.
“On the math side, what we’re catching more of is high-school-age kids that didn’t really finish algebra one or algebra two, and they’re going into something like geometry or precalculus,” Dennis said. “And the teachers are expecting them to know things that would have been taught from March to June (2020).”
Cathy added that much of the problem over the first semester of the year was retention of information, especially given the virtual end of the 2019-20 school year which made that term feel abbreviated.
“Some of the concepts you learn in freshman year, so by the time you get to the fourth year, you’re kind of not remembering those concepts. So, you need kind of a review,” Cathy said.
Concept reviews are important when entering a new school year as well, Cathy said, especially when you need to evaluate where a student’s position is from a scholastic perspective.
Both Club Z and Sylvan Learning Centers evaluate each new student’s needs to determine which subjects help is most needed in. The evaluation also helps them determine how each student wants to engage in learning and what parents’ frustrations are.
Holtsclaw said her experience taking her son to Sylvan Learning Center has been good for him and he is now back to enjoying learning in contrast to the frustrated boy she’d seen when she and her husband were trying to teach him at home.
“He’s definitely more open,” Holtsclaw said. “He’s more open to learning; he’s more open to getting things wrong. He’s not as frustrated. He’s you know, I have a kid that’s just generally a confident and happy kid.”