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How To Curb Students’ Learning Loss? Virtual Teachers in the Library Can Make a Difference

Meet Eslavia Garza, a Virtual Teacher in the Library helping students and families close the academic opportunity gap.

Mind the Gap

Research shows that students could lose 5 to 9 months of learning due to the educational disruption brought by COVID-19. Students of color could be six to twelve months behind, broadening the learning gap among children.

The pandemic has exposed inequities in learning. For many students, the challenge begins with a lack of access to resources. While some families are able to provide books, materials, and tutorial services to supplement their children’s learning, others grapple with where to get assistance.

Understanding that accessible, free, and high-quality academic support is paramount for thousands of students and families across 77 neighborhoods in the city, Chicago Public Library has transformed its signature after-school in-branch program, Teacher in the Library, into a virtual format. Students can now schedule one-on-one tutoring sessions with a certified teacher to get free homework help.

Learning One-On-One

Eslavia Garza has been an educator for 39 years. A retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, she has been helping Kindergarteners to sixth graders at the Toman branch since 2017. When the Library’s doors had to close temporarily, Eslavia continued to support students through the Virtual Teacher in the Library program

During the session, Eslavia gives each her undivided attention for 20-30 minutes. “I have a dedicated time for each child. I can concentrate on teaching them and they concentrate on learning. There is an intense focus for both of us,” she continued. During this time, students ask questions, Eslavia guides the children step-by-step, and both practice the assignments together.

Eslavia also takes the time to connect with her students. “Learning is not transactional, it’s relationship-based. To teach them effectively, I have to earn their trust,” she explained. True enough, Eslavia makes sure she asks her students how their day was and giving them space to talk─from their hobbies to their challenges in school.

“I incorporate the tidbits I learn from the children in our lessons. For example, there was a fourth-grader I have been teaching for over a month. He is so shy he refused to show his face on camera. After a couple of encouraging conversations, he shared that he loves to play baseball. So, I used baseball examples to teach him math and it worked! He’s much more engaged now, excitedly solving fraction problems.”

Inspired to teach by her students’ willingness to learn

Education in the virtual landscape requires adjustment both for Eslavia and her students. Some students are digital natives. They’re familiar with the device and can manipulate it during the session. “Most of the children impress me. They can share screens and capture screenshots,” Eslavia explained. Others need a helping hand. “With the younger ones, we have to spend the early parts of the session getting set up and assisting them with technology,” she continued.

While there are aspects of digital tutoring as challenging, overall, Eslavia is inspired by the willingness of her students to learn.

“All of them come eager to learn. Learning through a screen is not easy, but these children ─ they are adapting so well. I want to be a better teacher because I’m inspired by the students’ motivation,” Eslavia shared.

“What’s the best thing about being a Virtual Teacher in the Library?” I ask. “Seeing the students rise above the barriers to learning and succeeding,” replied Eslavia. She then talked about her student, Max. She used to teach the sixth-grade student at Toman branch. Now, they meet online weekly. In the beginning, Max struggled with remote learning. But with focused instruction and consistent encouragement from Eslavia, Max is now thriving. “Last week, Max was excited to tell me he got an A from a math quiz.” These stories of triumph are stark reminders that education is always worth it.

Do your children need homework help? Register for a free one on one session with a Virtual Teacher in the Library here.

Virtual Teachers in the Library is part of Chicago Public Library’s free Homework Help program to help thousands of students obtain the academic support they need. With your support, we can continue to help more children and families fight the COVID-19 learning loss and thrive in school.