The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered classrooms across the country, but some of Worcester’s most vulnerable high school students are still getting the educational support they need thanks, in part, to Kaya Middleton-Grant ’23 and Thomas Mueller ’22.
Mueller, a management and music major, and Middleton-Grant, who’s studying media, culture, and the arts, are two of the Clark students who volunteer their time with the Bruce Wells Scholars Upward Bound Program. A partnership between the nonprofit You Inc., Clark University, and the Worcester Public Schools, the program provides promising but at-risk high school students with the opportunity to achieve their dreams of a college education.
“Upward Bound helps students — many of whom are low-income or first-generation — with their education,” says Mueller, who has been working as a tutor since last fall. “A lot of these people are taking care of their families and they’re in really troubled situations and need the academic help.”
With the Worcester Public Schools closed until the beginning of May Upward Bound has shifted its services to an online platform. Using Google Classroom and Khan Academy, Mueller and Middleton-Grant are holding virtual tutoring sessions from their homes.
“I am amazed by how quickly the program has been able to transition to online,” Mueller says. “It’s fortunate students will still be able to receive academic support during a time like this.”
The program has shifted away from in-person teaching in which multiple tutors work with a group of students each week. Now, each volunteer is assigned a group of students and hosts one-on-one check-in sessions on a video-conferencing platform to ensure the high school scholars are faring well. Both Mueller and Middleton-Grant provide tutoring in subjects ranging from algebra to English.
“We’ve all created different schedules based on the students’ availability,” Middleton-Grant says.
A first-year student, Middleton-Grant became involved with Upward Bound after seeing the position posted on Clark’s Handshake jobs portal. She wanted to get involved with the community and realized the job would be a perfect fit.
“It caught my eye immediately because in high school, I had a really great experience with a mentorship,” she says. “I was able to see the value of it and I wanted to flip the role and use what I had learned to work with students in the Worcester area.”
Mueller, who also found the position through Handshake, already had experience in education. Last year he mentored children in the arts at St. Peter’s Church in Worcester.
Not all Upward Bound instructors made the shift to remote teaching, but Mueller and Middleton-Grant were committed to continue tutoring online because of the connection they share with their students. Both plan to work with the program long term.
For Middleton-Grant, it’s been especially rewarding to see how academically driven the high schoolers are. The relationships she’s formed with her students motivate her.
“I’ve been getting to know each of them really well on a personal level, and I want to continue doing that,” she says. “The Upward Bound community is super tight-knit and strong, and I want to make as much of an impact as possible.”