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Waterbury schools expanding its free, 24/7 tutoring program

Varsity Tutors is free and available to all Waterbury Public School students.

WATERBURY, Conn. — Many students have been in a position at one point where they get home from class, they're attempting to do school work, and they're just not getting it. Now, Waterbury Public Schools has a system to help students who are stuck. It's called varsity tutors, and it's already helping students who were falling behind.

"I guess you could say, I like virtual more than being in school because, like, it's easier for me," said C'Mora Blakes, an 8th grader at Wallace Middle School.

When the pandemic forced students to learn online, Blakes was Thriving. But when they came back to in-person learning, her grades started to drop.

"I'm a very shy person, it's a struggle for me," Blakes said.

Then, last winter, the district implemented Varsity Tutors. It's a 24/7 tutoring service where students can log on with a professional for real-time help. Blake's mom said she is already seeing the improvement in her daughter's grades.

"It built up her confidence with math, pretty much, so, she's like, 'I got it, I can figure it out, or I can ask a tutor,'" said Tyneka Brown, Blake's mom.

It was working so well, the superintendent said they're now expanding the program, now trying to get third and sixth graders to use it as often as possible.

"Because those are two grade levels that we believe that we probably have the largest gaps," said Dr. Verna Ruffin, Superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools.

That learning gap is slowly started to close, and Dr. Ruffin said Varsity Tutors is only helping with that. 

"This is not calling someone to help with a homework assignment. This is getting to the root cause of why a concept wasn't quite understood," Dr. Ruffin said.

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At the same time, it's balancing out the teacher shortage, where the district is down about 190 teachers. Those teachers can also use the program in class as a supplemental tool.

"It's starting to help me, like, I'm starting to ask questions in class more," Blakes said. 

So far, the district has seen 44 essays get reviewed by Varsity Tutors. More than 580 students have had support sessions...with six of those conducted in Spanish.

"So that means that the student gets the assistance that they're requesting on time, in real-time, by a real person somewhere in the world." Dr. Ruffin said. "Someone who understands what they're doing, has a passion for teaching, and a passion for teaching it to children, and can take the time to find out, 'Why are you having problems with this particular thing?'"

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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