By Christina Mascarenas
As the world adapts to a temporary new normal with classes and meetings online so has a tutoring program. The ‘A Way With Words & Numbers’ (or AWWWN) non-profit tutoring program housed in the Career Center at the University of Missouri has taken their tutoring lessons online.
Before the online transition, the program offered free tutoring sessions in the afternoon to elementary students from 13 Columbia public schools as well as after school tutoring to any elementary and middle school students at the Daniel Boone Regional Library. The AWWWN was started in 1994 as part of President Bill Clinton’s America Reads program with a focus on reading. A couple of years later, America Counts was added. It’s grown into an evidence-based literacy program – ‘Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites’ or PRESS – that targets the individual students’ skills in literacy that they are struggling with.
AWWWN is a team of MU graduate and undergraduate students trained in providing individual academic support to elementary students in the Columbia community through one-on-one tutoring services in reading and math. Along with providing Mizzou student tutors an opportunity to learn about themselves in making major and career decisions, said Career Center director, Robert McDaniels
Along with McDaniels, the program is student-ran by current graduate associate directors McKinzie Duesenberg, a doctoral student in school psychology from St. Louis; Claire Nolan, a master’s candidate in school counseling from Taylorville, IL.; and Kelli Russell, a master’s candidate in school counseling from Lockport, IL. They are responsible for 11 graduate students and approximately 110 undergraduate tutors who are placed at the partnered elementary school sites and the Daniel Boone Regional Library PRESS program.
The coronavirus pandemic has made them think on the fly and they have learned to help support their tutors and students on a virtual platform and being agents of change, Duesenberg said. McDaniels came up with the idea for online tutoring saying he knew parents would need help in providing a learning environment for their children. Since Mizzou and the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) were going in the direction of online classes he thought the tutoring program could also adapt to online. “McKinzie, Claire and Kelli took the idea and put it into action,” he said. “They are perfect examples of what our students can do.”
“My current position has taught me invaluable leadership and collaboration skills as well as emphasized the importance of academic interventions,” Duesenberg said. She chose Mizzou because the school psychology doctoral program felt like a close knit community. “Everyone was extremely personable and passionate about the field and I was excited to learn and grow in an environment that was still so excited about the profession. The research being done by the school psychology faculty is incredible. There is tremendous opportunity for growth and collaboration within the department and interdisciplinary as well,” she said.
During her time at Mizzou, she has had opportunities to deliver professional development presentations at local and national conferences along with assuming the leadership role as an associate director with AWWWN. “I was extremely excited to grow in my leadership skills and help further develop a program that has been doing such amazing things within the Columbia community. Within this role, I have had the opportunity to teach peers, educators, and MU undergraduate students about academic interventions, which is directly related to my research focus,” Duesenberg said.
Nolan will graduate in May with a master’s degree from the School of Education. She chose to study at MU due to the “prestigious school counseling program that is ranked third in the nation, and location,” she said. “I knew this opportunity would be incredibly beneficial to my education and overall professional development.” She has learned how to work with and supervise her peers, while also working with university faculty and community leaders. At the same time, she has been an assistant track and field coach and held practicum internship placements working with elementary and high school students.
AWWWN and her supervisor McDaniels prepared her for the future by allowing her the opportunity to work in a leadership position as an site coordinator and associate director. He has done “an incredible job of mentoring McKinzie, Kelli and I and ensuring we are leading the program to success. We could not have made it through this year without him. He is a patient, kind, and caring person who loves MU and his community.” Her post-graduate plans are to move back to central Illinois and work as a kindergarten to second grade school counselor this fall and eventually work in policy development for mental health services in schools or for the state board of education on behalf of school counseling.
Russell will also graduate this May with a master’s in school counseling. She chose to continue her education at MU after graduating with her undergraduate degree. She echoed Nolan in wanting to attend the School of Education because it’s “one of the top programs for school counseling in the nation. It was meant to be that I stayed at Mizzou,” she said.
The opportunities she has had at the university started her freshman year when she worked in the Psychological Services Clinic as a work-study, and along with her assistantship with AWWWN, it has given her a feeling for working in CPS, helping her develop leadership skills and step outside of her comfort zone, she said. She credits McDaniels for being a great mentor and providing them with “support and guidance, while also encouraging us to be confident in our leadership abilities and decisions,” she said.
As an associate director they are all planners, Russell said, they spent the summer developing the program and the transition to online tutoring was a test for them. Through the position she has learned to manage an office and the hiring process, along with working with the financial aid department. She was able to get a better knowledge of work-study opportunities when hiring the tutors. She has worked closely with the tutors and graduate assistants by conducting weekly site coordinator meetings and making sure they are doing well, along with working on transitioning the next leadership team.
“AWWWN has prepared me for my future in a lot of ways,” Russell said. “It has helped me get my foot in the door with schools, establish relationships with school personnel, and helped me to develop my leadership skills when working with both peers and children.” After graduation Russell is moving back to the Chicago area and will hopefully work as a school counselor in a high school.
As associate directors they have gotten hands-on experience running a program and working with Columbia school personnel. “This is a career related opportunity for them and the experience puts them above others in the same career path when it comes to seeking a position after graduation,” McDaniels said.
They will implement the online tutoring for the fall semester to accommodate the families and tutors, Nolan said. This has also worked out well for the Mizzou tutors who don’t have transportation to the library or elementary schools. They like the online tutoring since they are able to work and provide services to the students. “Anything is possible now,” Duesenberg said. “The sky’s the limit. Zoom has opened an avenue of reaching students. The parent’s love it, especially those who don’t have access to go to the library after school to meet with their tutor in person,” she said.
“This has been a collaborative team effort,” Duesenberg said. The AWWWN program shows how MU gives back to the Columbia community along with giving students an opportunity to work with real world job experiences, and showcases how Mizzou students adapt to unexpected circumstances. “It is definitely a win, win win proposition,” McDaniels said.