When the COVID-19 crisis struck across the United States, millions of people’s jobs were suddenly a bit different. That included the jobs of Graduation Alliance’s local advocates, who work with students in local communities to help them address and overcome obstacles that are standing in the way of academic success.
So, how did the local advocate’s role change in this new environment? Let’s ask our Local Advocate Tonya, who is based out of Washington state.
Each week, you host something called a “meetup.” Can you tell us what that is?
Sure thing. For my meetups, I get together with my students at a local public library. I’m there for two to three hours, usually hanging out in the back tables or in one of the meeting rooms. The students arrive and sign in with me, and then we check to see what they have to do for that meeting.
What do they do?
Sometimes they’re ready to take a final exam, so we’ll do it then. Other times they just use the time to work on their assignments with someone there to help them if they need it. But there’s another thing we do that is really important: Identifying and addressing obstacles they’re facing in their lives that might prevent success in school.
How do you do that?
I work really hard to connect with my students on a personal level. I’m always asking them about their day and their week since we’ve seen one another last. I ask about work and their families, but I also respect their privacy if they don’t want to talk about something. My goal is just to build up a lot of trust so that they know they can come to me with any problems. We don’t always talk about serious stuff. A lot of times we talk about their plans for a tattoo or what’s going on with their favorite sports team.
Why are meetups so important for students?
Meetups are important because it gives students a marker – a reminder every week that they need to stay on task. More than that, though, they give students a chance to ask a real, live, in-person human being for help, and I love playing that role. They get some face-to-face interaction and we get to make a personal connection. Then they know we do really care about them and want to see them succeed — not only in school but in life and as a person.
We’re talking about meetups during the COVID-19 crisis. Have your meetups changed during this time?
Oh yes, they’ve changed so much — but also it’s important to know that we’re still doing everything we were doing before, just in a different way. For the time being, our meetups have moved to a virtual space. Now we can only see each other through a computer camera, and even with that most students like to turn that off, which I totally get and respect. Just like in the library, we chat for a few minutes to see how they have been, then discuss what they will need to accomplish that day, whether it be completing some assignments or taking a final exam. I have tried a few different things to get the students more involved — like, for instance, I have had a couple of movie meetups.
Movie meetups? That sounds fun.
Yeah. That’s been a hit and some of the highest attendance numbers have happened on those days. I also had a trivia night, which was a lot of fun; we did some head-to-head competitions and the students were the most engaged I’ve seen them in quite a while. During the game night we played “Never Have I Ever” and had everyone turn on their cameras. Honestly, it was just so fun to see them being normal teenagers and having fun with each other and talking about their lives.
In what ways are you still able to support students despite the constraints that have been put on your normal meetup structure?
The students all know I am still available at any time to help them out. They know they can text me at any time of the day and I usually get back to them within minutes. The virtual meetups have helped some of the students out because they can now attend my other district’s meetups without having to travel to a different city, which has offered a lot of flexibility. Instead of having one or two options each week, they can now attend any one of my five meetups.
Whether it’s in a library or through a computer screen, it’s important to our Local Advocates to find ways to engage students and keep them on track. We appreciate their hard work and dedication to student success!