child at table on laptop

Homework Hotline

St. Lawrence tutors go virtual to help local school kids

Hannah Rutkowski ’22

With the help of the Health Initiative and Lucia Pawlowski, director of the WORD Studio at St. Lawrence University, tutors participate in workshops on positive youth development and non-directive feedback focusing on how to make meaningful, effective, and appropriate tutoring relationships with schoolchildren of all ages.

“We try to engage with the students in the easiest way possible by asking how they are doing or what exciting thing happened to them today,” says tutor Kenyeri Xelhua ’21, a veteran of the St. Lawrence tutoring program. “I remember being able to read and participate in the actual classroom activities, which was often the highlight of my day, especially when I had a rough week of classes,” she says. And although the exchange is different, she feels there is still a lot to be gained from the virtual setting.

“Many people are finding that there are silver linings from being pushed to go online,” says Oey. Although the goal is for St. Lawrence students to eventually be able to return to the physical classrooms, the online tutoring program may continue and possibly expand. Oey, her cross-campus colleagues, and community partners are considering making the Homework Hotline countywide to reach school districts in an even wider radius to campus.

“I am able to make wonderful experiences that I will forever cherish,” says Xelhua, who understands that, while tutoring may look different during the pandemic, it is still an important service and can be just as beneficial to the tutor as it is to the tutee. “I feel most rewarded seeing a smile on the students’ faces once they realize they can solve any problem on their own.”


“This tutoring program is important, especially now, because all of us need connection,” says Esther Oey, visiting assistant professor and coordinator of St. Lawrence’s Teacher Education Program. Oey applauds the St. Lawrence students who have converted the tutoring outreach program to area schools with renewed, virtual ingenuity in making connections with local school children during this public health crisis. “Online tutoring is a very safe and personal form of connection under COVID-19 that can build relationships.”

For many years, St. Lawrence’s tutoring program involved students traveling to six different local school districts, and offering extra academic support under classroom teachers’ supervision throughout the week. To adjust to the challenges of online learning as well as maintain health precautions, the program was redesigned as a Homework Hotline and piloted through Google Meet to elementary, middle, and high schools in the Massena Central School District. The tutors, who represent a variety of majors across disciplines, use different online tools, such as digital whiteboards, to mimic an in-classroom exchange.

“When becoming an online program, we wondered how we could make sure the child has a voice,” says Oey, emphasizing the importance of listening to the tutee. “We want the tutee to be the one really making the decisions and controlling the directions of things so that the tutors can meet their needs.”