Luke Clifton, Esha Puri and Pranav Ranesh established Connect Oregon Students to help their peers during distance learning. 

In a recent survey conducted by the Keizertimes regarding returning back to school, one parent expressed concern that their child, “is going to fall behind and fail because we won’t be able to assist the way that will be needed.” (See Parents: SKPS is falling short on fall plans August, 7). 

Several South Salem High School seniors felt the same, which is why Luke Clifton, Esha Puri and Pranav Ramesh created Connect Oregon Students, a free peer tutoring and support service.

The program began as a pilot program for students in the Salem-Keizer School District when schools announced they were transitioning to distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Going into the 2020-2021 school year, Connect Oregon Students will be available to every student in Oregon.

“We realized there could be some issues adjusting to the new learning format, so we decided that we should really do our part to help out other students in the district with our pilot program,” Clifton said. “Now that we’ve found it’s so successful, we went and expanded it to all of [the Oregon school districts].”

Contact between students needing mentoring and the tutors at Connect Oregon Students is made through their website, connectoregonstudents.org. After being paired with a tutor, lessons can take place over Google Meets, phone calls or emails, whatever is most comfortable for the student, or parent in the case of younger students.

“They sign up through the website and then that student would get paired with one of our high school students to [be] tutored in the subject that they wanted,” Puri said.

Elementary through high school students are eligible to receive tutoring but tutors must be enrolled in an Oregon high school and be under the age of 18. Subjects range from K-5 math to advanced placement and International Baccalaureate course. All options are listed on the website. 

“We decide those [tutoring topics] based on the topics that our tutors, when they sign up, think they’re proficient enough to teach,” Clifton said. More topics may become available as more people volunteer to tutor.

At the peak of their pilot there were up to 75 students. “A lot of those students we did end up contacting ourselves to just gather the data, but we did give some students to the volunteers just to see how they interacted and to work out the bugs with that too,” Ramesh said.

The trio had 15 to 20 tutors at the height of the pilot and are currently looking for more. According to Salem Reporter, about 40 students have signed up so far, but they expect and hope that the demand will increase; the seniors said there is no max capacity.

“The elementary students don’t necessarily have like a subject they need to work on. Sometimes their parents say, ‘My first graders needs more help in reading proficiency.’ [And tutors are] just helping them read through a story or looking at certain words,” Puri said.

The other concern frequently mentioned on social media is the lack of socialization and negative mental health effects that come with online learning; the website addresses these in the form of peer support.

“Not being able to chat with peers all of the time can be challenging. While text chat might not be able to replace an in-person conversation, we hope that it can make the social disconnect between all of us students a little bit smaller,” the website reads.

Both the tutoring and peer support services are free and open to all Oregon K-12 students. Connect Oregon Students can be found on Facebook and Instragram at @Connectoregonstudents.