VEP Continues to Support Students, Tutors During Coronavirus Pandemic
Even during a time of stay-at-home and physical distancing orders, the Volunteer English Program (VEP) in Chester County continues to provide service and support to its students and tutors. Many pairs are continuing to “meet” for one-to-one English language learning lessons via telephone, smartphone, computer videoconferencing and even worksheets sent through the mail. While not ideal, the pandemic’s restrictions have also opened the door to new ways to continue to provide professional, technical training for tutors.
In addition to an initial nine hours of intensive, preliminary tutor training, VEP has always provided on-going, free support and instruction to current tutors looking for more ways to help their students stay focused on their learning goals. “Volunteer English may have a small staff, but we have a deep bench of wonderful tutors, all of whom bring the depth and breadth of life experiences that are invaluable, and for the most part inaccessible, for our culturally diverse students,” says Terri Potrako, Executive Director of VEP. “We are fortunate that many of them are generous enough to donate their time not only to tutoring one or more students, but also to lending their experience and knowledge in leading workshops and sessions to help their tutoring peers.”
In April, the organization moved its “Peer to Peer” Workshops, focused on current trends or topics of interest to tutors and usually held in person several times a year, online — and saw attendance soar from a dozen attendees in the past to more than 40 in each of the virtual workshops.
“Holding these workshops through Zoom has opened up some interesting possibilities,” says Martin McNeil, who led a session focused on a free English learning website that students and tutors can use together during their virtual lessons. “Not having to travel to a physical location on a weekday means we are able to offer tutors more flexibility. It allows us to reach tutors that otherwise may not be able to participate due to scheduling conflicts.” Developing presentations that are creative and engaging, and allowing enough time and opportunity for questions, helps foster engagement with the attendees. In the long run, tutors can use these newly learned techniques now and in their future, in-person instruction.
Liz Maser, who led a session focused on phonics for the ESL learner, agrees. “It’s important to integrate as many components as possible into learning. In-person workshops and lessons offer opportunities for peer-to-peer tutor engagement that are hard to replace, but the future of online workshops is here. Virtual collaboration gives our tutors another resource that can continue to be used — and which has the added bonus of being convenient for tutors who are staying safely at home and promotes volunteer tutor retention for VEP.”
As school districts and universities in the region begin the task of retooling online education, the Volunteer English Program tutors have already implemented new techniques to customize English language instruction for over 200 participants in the program as a result of collaborative learning from their peers.