In this blog post, Math Classroom Coaching volunteer and current Communications Intern Briana Kallenbach shares her experiences about volunteering before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Briana is a junior at the University of Texas majoring in Communication and Leadership.
My Introduction to APIE
The first time I volunteered as a Math Classroom Coach at Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, I remember being nervous. Middle schoolers intimidated me, and I wasn’t always the best with children. But when meeting the students, my nerves went away. I saw an opportunity to connect with my small group of girls and hopefully contribute positively to their education. Over the course of that semester in 2019, the girls and I got close. They enjoyed telling me about their school week and social lives before we started the lesson we were given. The activities we did were fun and engaging—often a type of puzzle or matching game. That weekly class always seemed to pass by too quickly, and I found myself wishing we had more time together.
The Pandemic Begins
I realized I enjoyed tutoring more than I had expected, so I decided to continue volunteering with APIE in the spring. I was glad to be working with with my same group of students again. I knew what they didn’t fully understand the semester before, and it was fulfilling to work with them on those concepts. The new semester was going well, but everything came to a sudden halt in March when the pandemic began. In April, Math Classroom Coaching was suspended for the rest of the school year. It was hard to end volunteering so abruptly when I had formed a connection with the students over the past semester of weekly meetings.
Adjusting to the Zoom Classroom
When the new school year began in the fall, I received an email about online Math Classroom Coaching using the Zoom platform. I signed up to volunteer with a class at Dobie Middle School. I was glad to be able to contribute more to APIE, but also apprehensive about my ability to teach over Zoom. I knew it would be difficult not working side-by-side with the students, but I had never considered that the challenges they faced in their own lives because of the pandemic would also impact our work together. It was tough, especially when my students would choose not to turn on their cameras or microphones. In the beginning, both the students and I were learning how to adjust to the virtual environment. I quickly learned how challenging it is to get close to the students when you’re separated by distance. We were never able to quite recreate the same experience as in-person tutoring. However, I knew even if it was not quite the same, it was still important to be there consistently each week for students.
Volunteering through APIE has been a learning experience for me. As I continue to work with the organization in a new capacity, I’m able to see firsthand the impact volunteers have on students’ education. I was recently shared feedback from students at Dobie Middle School about their virtual Math Classroom Coaching experience in the fall. Reading comments like “I feel more comfortable, so it is a lot easier to ask questions,” and “they take time to make sure me and my classmates understand,” made me realize that the students appreciated the effort we put in as volunteers to work with them each week, even if they didn’t always share that directly with us. Volunteers have a larger impact on students at Austin ISD than I initially realized, and being there consistently for students through all the uncertainties is crucial to helping foster their academic and personal self-confidence.