Sometimes before talking remotely with her Clinton Elementary School second grader, Izzy Rutkey read to prepare.
“I would Google Star Wars,’’ she said. “He’s really excited about that topic.’’
Rutkey just finished her sophomore year at Hamilton College, where the sociology and education major plays violin in the college orchestra, is a tour guide on The Hill and will be a co-director next year for the Sidekicks mentoring program that pairs HC students with a student at Clinton Elementary.
In March, when school buildings and college campuses closed in New York state due to the coronavirus, Rutkey and several other Hamilton students stepped up to connect remotely with Clinton students. Some, like Rutkey, forged a connection as friends more than over academics with younger students. Others worked with junior and senior high students as academic tutors.
Amy James, director of Community Outreach at the college, said the partnership helped college students who had to return home and missed being on campus and in the community. “This was a good way to put their useful energy to work,’’ she said.
James coordinated a few volunteer options for Hamilton students to serve the community after leaving campus in March. The effort also established a tutoring model for Clinton High School that she hopes to continue in the fall.
Rutkey, who lives near Saratoga, has a six-year-old brother, so had no trouble adapting to becoming a buddy via Facetime with the Clinton eight-year-old. “Young boys have so much energy,’’ she said. “I usually asked a bunch of questions and he’d do most of the talking.’’
Knowing how her own brother has had trouble being away from his friends and classmates helped Rutkey think like a second grader. “He talked about not being allowed to go over to someone’s house or how he can’t do this or that,’’ she said of the conversations during their weekly talk.
“He told me about camping and showed me his Lego Star Wars set. It was a great way to have a connection with someone that was just all about him,’’ she said.
Rutkey wants to teach elementary school history after college, so this experience works into her professional goals. For Rich Marooney, tutoring online helped fill the time he would have spent this spring as captain and outfielder on the Continentals baseball team.
Marooney, who will be a senior in the fall, is an economics major from Garden City, Long Island. He was paired with an eighth grade boy at Clinton Middle School.
Marooney and the student used Zoom for tutoring in pre-Algebra, ELA and social studies. “As a student-athlete I’m so busy I didn’t have time for this,’’ said Marooney, who is also an Orientation leader. “I heard about the volunteer opportunities when we went remote and had the time when my schedule opened up.’’
Marooney and his student found a connection through a mutual love of Star Wars and video games. “I have a greater appreciation for what all teachers and professors had to do when going remote,’’ Marooney said.
“In person it’s easier to break down a math problem. I would do it on paper and hold it up to the camera to show him,’’ he said.
The topic of the coronavirus came up between the two when the Middle School student had an assignment in ELA where a character in the story has a fear of dying. “He knows the effects of what may happen if someone has the virus,’’ Marooney said. “It was interesting to hear his view on things at his age.’’
Dr. Stephen Grimm, superintendent of Clinton Central School District, said the school and students benefit greatly in so many ways from the partnership with Hamilton College. “The tutoring program during the pandemic crisis is one of many examples where Hamilton students share not only their academic expertise, but the value of their humanity, character, and compassion both interpersonally with our students during the experience, and outwardly as a symbol of the kind of people we all should aspire to be - those who reach out to help others in times of great need - in this case, the children in the Clinton school community,’’ he said. “I am so grateful for all they do for us, especially during these challenging times.
For two of the tutors this volunteer effort marked one of their last activities as a Hamilton student. Casey McAndrews and Elizabeth Howard each tutored a Clinton High School student while wrapping up their senior year work.
McAndrews, from Rhode Island, was a double major in biology and histrionic studies. Life after Hamilton will take her into medical school with a goal of becoming a pediatrician.
McAndrews tutored prior to the move to online teaching, helping elementary students at Clinton and Westmoreland in Spanish. “That was tutoring in the normal sense,’’ she said.
On campus McAndrews was events coordinator for the HAAND club that helps children with autism and their families. She also played club soccer.
For the remote tutoring, McAndrews matched up with a high school student. Over Zoom she helped her student in Earth Science. “It was trial and error,’’ she said, “with some technological hurdles. We figured it out together, how to look at papers and hold them up to the camera.’’
Because both of them were spending time on their computers doing school work, their tutoring sessions were more like a business meeting, she said. “When we were done we would have more interpersonal conversations.’’