For many students with special needs, the switch to virtual learning had a significant impact on the services and supports they receive from their school.
Students with developmental and intellectual disabilities were no longer receiving the life and social skills resources and services inside their schools. After schools stopped in-person instruction due to COVID-19, Indiana Kids, IU’s statewide tutoring and mentoring service, moved services online to make sure students in grades 6-12 all over Indiana were getting help with their schoolwork.
For one student, Sam, a 10th-grader from Bloomington, the time he spent with tutors and mentors helped replace what he was missing by being away from school. Tutors were able to get information from his school on the life lessons and social skills recommended for him so they could begin working on that material.
In addition, the tutors and mentors worked with Sam on social skills, including verbal communication, which is a struggle for Sam. The tutors have worked so much with Sam that they have learned to better understand him, further building a strong relationship and his social skills.
Building those social skills are just as important as life skills, said Deborah Myerson, Sam’s mother.
“My son has greatly enjoyed summer tutoring with Indiana Kids. Tutors are attentive and help him maintain academic skills over the summer break. In addition, they are tuned into his desire for social interaction. The videoconferencing on Zoom is a terrific way to provide tutoring and build a relationship with the students,” she said.
Over the last few months, tutors and mentors built strong relationships with the 6th through 12th grade students they serve and worked to find activities that would help replace what they would be working on at school.
“Our tutors have been doing an incredible job meeting the needs of these students, both academically and socially,” said Chris Chalker, who oversees the tutors and mentors providing services to students statewide through Indiana Kids.
Each tutor/mentor was provided professional development on supporting students with special needs as part of their preparation for tutoring and mentoring, thus contributing to their success in meeting the needs of the students they serve.
“Some of the relationship building I have seen from our tutors is of higher quality than I have seen from trained special education teachers during my tenure in public education. That’s because our tutors are both compassionate and passionate, along with being sensitive and caring. They simply love working with any and all students,” Chris said.
To find activities that were appropriate for the students they were helping, tutors and mentors researched and found resources they could use in their sessions.
Sam built a strong relationship with all his tutors, which speaks to the type of program that Indiana Kids offers, Chris Chalker said.
“Sam is one of a kind and it was a blast having him in our sessions. I looked forward to tutoring because Sam always made our nights fun,” tutor Juan Gomez Gonzalez said.