On a Thursday evening in early March, masked students at Syracuse’s North Side Learning Center gather in classrooms to connect with volunteer tutors, who provide support remotely through a program launched at Syracuse University. For North Side Executive Director Mark Cass ’80, seeing the kids engaged with their schoolwork is a huge relief in the wake of the past year’s uncertainties. “It’s been unusual but really energizing here,” he says. “Everyone’s done a tremendous job, and there’s a real spirit of helping each other.”
Last spring, when the pandemic forced school districts nationwide to shift to virtual learning, many students found themselves in an online wilderness where they struggled to survive academically. At the North Side Learning Center—which provides tutoring and other services for members of the resettled refugee and immigrant community—students faced immense challenges. Some lacked home internet connectivity or struggled to master online platforms. Many shouldered family responsibilities, including overseeing the schoolwork of younger siblings, and found themselves without quiet space where they could work uninterrupted. Meanwhile, English language learners and others who depend on individual tutoring suddenly faced gaps in their academic support system.
Through his work at the center, Brice Nordquist, associate professor of writing and rhetoric and Dean’s Professor of Community Engagement in the College of Arts and Sciences, shared the North Side staff’s concerns about getting students through the semester, especially those who were close to graduation. “How are we going to keep them from falling off the map?” he wondered.
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