Tutorial Program Provides Help During Pandemic

Volunteer tutors are connecting with teachers who need extra support for their students.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, Jessica’s education paused. Her middle school special education teacher gave her a large packet of math problems to solve at home and promised to keep in touch. That was the last time Jessica heard from her teacher.

Jessica’s story is like many other students in the Houston community and around the United States. Last spring, teachers needed time to learn new ways of reaching students remotely. Teachers like Jessica’s faced even more complexity in instructing special needs students from low income environments.

To address that problem, the Rice University Office of STEM Engagement (R-STEM) has partnered with NanoEnabled Water Treatment (NEWT) to start the NEWT K–12 Tutorial Program. The program connects tutors with teachers looking for additional support for their students in a virtual learning environment.

Volunteer tutors are connecting with teachers who need extra support for their students.
VIRTUAL LEARNING AND THEN SOME: Volunteer tutors are connecting with teachers who need extra support
for their students.

Since the program launched in January 2021, more than 30 K–12 students have signed up to participate in the biweekly free service. Each session allows students to ask questions about previous or current topics they’re learning in school, practice answering problems and reflect on the relevance of the content in real-world settings.

Eleven graduate and undergraduate students from Rice, Arizona State University, University of Texas El Paso, Yale University and one NASA scientist were paired with teachers at schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the Greater Houston and El Paso areas.

Each volunteer offers biweekly general elementary, biology, physics, chemistry or computer science tutorial services to students in the teacher’s classroom through a virtual platform of the teacher’s choosing. The teacher-tutor pairing is essential because it allows the NEWT tutors to provide up-to-date, tailored instruction with the class unit and pacing guide.

“I moved to Houston when COVID-19 was already in full swing, so I was excited to find NEWT as a way to be involved in my new community virtually,” said Samantha Fleury, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University.

“I’m hopeful NEWT is a resource to help offset some of the extra challenges facing students this year. Plus, I’m a big biology nerd, so I enjoy getting to share the subject I love with students.”

Melissa Byrant, an elementary school teacher, added, “My students are even more excited to come to enrichment, and from their work, I’m noticing they are picking up the concepts more.”

The goal is to expand and continue the program into the fall semester. The program empowers and helps students from our surrounding community to succeed and reach their most tremendous classroom potential.

— Leslie Arrazolo
NEWT Outreach Chair for Rice University

— Christina Crawford
Associate Director for Science and Engineering, R-STEM


A quarterly newsletter that showcases the university’s outreach programs. Each issue of the newsletter includes a series of stories that raise the awareness of Rice’s engagement with the city and beyond.