I have been a part of the Team Read program since my sophomore year of high school and it has been one of the best parts of my high school experience. I remember right when schools shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, my mind immediately went to my Team Read student and her peers. Our students are reading below grade-level and need extra support. I worried they might fall further behind without in-person classes and after school programs. However, I soon began working with other teen coaches and Team Read staff to create and deliver our first-ever virtual summer program. It was truly wonderful to see all the students’ faces, even though it was through a screen, and to work with them over the summer.

I won’t lie, online tutoring can definitely be challenging at times. Students sometimes arrive late or miss sessions, they are more easily distracted at home (siblings, pets, etc.), and everyone experiences occasional connectivity issues. I miss being able to sit next to my students and work with them in-person. But there are some benefits to having the program online this year. Coaches can now tutor from their own homes, which cuts down on commute times and makes Team Read more accessible for some. We also are now using reading platforms and e-books that allow you to highlight and underline words which can be helpful for emerging readers.

One thing that hasn’t changed this year is the connection between coaches and students. With limited social interaction during the pandemic, reading pairs were excited to see and talk to each other during Team Read. I was able to play the same games with my students, and even experiment with online tools to make everything a bit more interactive. Some of my favorite Team Read memories are now from virtual tutoring: drawing goofy pictures inspired by the stories we read together, listening to my student make up her own story and song, and of course, hearing a student explain why the Black Lives Matter movement was so vital after asking them what important lesson everyone should know.

Virtual tutoring has really helped me grow and take on more responsibilities within Team Read. Over the summer, I helped call families to make sure students were able to get online at the beginning of each session. I’ve become much better at communicating virtually with my peers and site coordinators, whether it is during meetings or just during sessions. Dealing with connectivity issues during the pilot program taught me to be more flexible and helped me develop my creative problem-solving skills, which I have used throughout the fall session. I have also had the opportunity to practice my Spanish skills with Spanish-speaking student readers! I am truly grateful for all the opportunities that Team Read has given me, and for all of the lessons I have learned from my peers and students.