Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

A coalition of several Yale-affiliated groups is planning to provide virtual mentoring and tutoring services to New Haven Public Schools students from grades 6-12 this fall and spring.

In March, undergraduate students from the Yale Education Studies Scholars program mobilized to offer an after-school virtual study hall to NHPS students who were affected by the city’s decision to close public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers of this pilot program found that there were many students who needed academic support in the STEM fields. However, the Yale volunteers did not have the infrastructure to provide enough resources to these students. Organizers through the Yale Education Tutoring Initiative, the Yale Office of New Haven Affairs, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and other graduate student groups then came together over the summer to build on the pilot program.

“I am proud of the undergraduate and graduate students for coming together to meet the needs of the community,” Claudia Merson, director of public school partnerships, told the News.

Merson said the coalition of student groups and the Office of New Haven Affairs have been able to meet much of the STEM and general tutoring demand. For this semester’s tutoring session, Merson contacted the New Haven math supervisor Kenneth Matthews to provide prospective student tutors with knowledge about the city’s math curriculum.

In addition to the math supervisor’s support, Merson said that other individuals have proven to be valuable assets for the program. Office of New Haven Affairs Pathways to Science Program Manager Maria Parente has provided organizers with logistical support –– such as the ability to keep track of student attendance numbers and identify why some students may not be in attendance. Sarah Cussler, assistant director of undergraduate writing and academic strategies at the Poorvu Center, has provided organizers with pedagogical support, including best virtual tutoring practices. Cussler is also hosting office hours to support tutors.

The coalition of organizations carried out their first two tutoring sessions last week after months of planning. The coalition matched students based on a variety of factors, including their schedule, academic needs, grade level and personal interests. They also publicized their initiative to principals, teachers and parents.

“We really encouraged our tutors, especially at our orientation, to use the first session to get to know their students,” said YETI student organizer Brooklin Ballard ’22. “They asked questions about [their mentee’s] interests and hobbies and used their time to set goals.”

The first week also served to ensure that mentees knew how to properly use Zoom features and had the appropriate learning equipment. Tutors were asked to fill out a feedback form documenting any technological issues their students had after the first session.

In a typical week, mentors will meet with their students twice a week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in the evening for roughly one hour, Ballard said. Alternatively, students can receive tutoring support on Saturday if they are unable to attend on weekdays.

Ballard said that 200 New Haven families have already signed their children up for tutoring services. This fall, roughly 70 Yale undergraduates and graduate students have signed up to tutor students. Due to immense demand and finite resources, the initiative has stopped accepting applications from families for now and plans to match NHPS students with mentors on a rolling basis.

The coalition also plans to work with organizers of the citywide community learning hub initiative, but the logistics of this partnership have not been finalized. Community learning hubs were born of a partnership between local nonprofits and the city, and offer a safe space for NHPS students who lack access to adequate technology to participate in virtual learning.

While graduate student organizer Rick Crouse told the News that tutoring students in person at the learning hubs would be ideal, it may not be feasible because of the community compact and potential health risks. Nevertheless, the coalition is closely monitoring the public health impact of the program.

“We are staying plugged into the discussion [with respect to learning hubs] because even though the kids are going to be served by learning hubs, that does not mean they are going to have all the support that they need –– so that’s where we think the tutors can help supplement,” said Crouse.

Going forward, Ballard said that the organization will focus on recruiting more graduate and undergraduate students. She told the News she hopes that YETI’s outreach to directors of undergraduate studies will increase the number of tutors available. Crouse said he hopes that the tutoring initiative will last at least through the end of the semester and into the spring.

Interested Yale students can apply to become a mentor here.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu

Christian Robles was a public editor, city desk editor, and education & youth services beat reporter. He graduated from Yale in 2023 with a degree in Political Science and as an education studies scholar.