Zoom Academy: Virtual tutoring connects Exeter to local students

Emma Cerrato '20 and friends help bridge the gap of self-isolation. 

Debbie Kane
April 6, 2020
Emma Cerrato sitting at a laptop computer

Emma Cerrato '20 recruited 30 students to serve as online tutors during isolation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Like many parents across the United States, Danielle Petlick of Stratham, New Hampshire, is adjusting to a new normal after COVID-19 required her town’s schools to shut down. Trying to manage the disruption to her family’s home life as well as her 9-year-old daughter’s education is “challenging at best,” she says. So, when Petlick noticed a post on her community’s Facebook page from Emma Cerrato ’20 offering free virtual tutoring to local students, she jumped at the opportunity.

“My daughter Zurie was receiving math support in school before we shifted to school at home,” says Petlick. “When I saw Emma’s post, I thought ‘this is amazing’.”

A day student from the town of Exeter, Cerrato organized her tutoring effort after experiencing the same disconnection and disruption as other students and their families when the Academy shifted to online learning this spring. Co-head of ESSO Pen Pals, which pairs Exeter students with community fourth-graders, she missed interactions with her peers as well as young learners. She also noticed how her 10-year-old brother was reacting to the new world of online learning.

It’s truly amazing what they’re doing. I’d love to see this relationship last beyond this crisis.”

“He told me ‘This is boring. I can’t talk to my teacher and I want to learn more’,” she says. “That’s when I thought tutoring would be a great way to connect the Exeter community to the town of Exeter in a way that’s virtual and feasible, considering everyone’s situation right now.”

Cerrato recruited students from the Academy as well as Exeter High School to be tutors. “I have a lot of friends at Exeter High School and I feel like there’s a disconnect between our schools even though we’re growing up in the same environment,” she says. “It was important to me to open this up to the entire community to get as many people involved as possible.”

Cerrato recruited 30 student tutors through a survey she posted on her Instagram account; then she turned to community Facebook pages to put the word out to parents. To the 15 parents who responded to Cerrato’s post, she asked for the names and ages of their children, the amount of time they needed from a tutor and the subjects they wanted help with. The young learners, mostly in elementary and middle school, are primarily receiving help in math and English over Skype or Zoom (one child is even being tutored in Chinese). Cerrato is tutoring a middle-school student in algebra. “I enjoy the face-to-face interaction,” she says. “My favorite part of ESSO Pen Pals was meeting the kids.”

Audrey Yin ’21, one of Cerrato’s closest friends and also a tutor, agrees. Professing to having watched a lot of “Grey’s Anatomy” since returning home, she eagerly agreed to tutor so she could feel more productive. “I’m tutoring a student in math,” she says. “I was tutored in math when I was a kid so it’s cool to remember the old tricks and use online resources and worksheets to help. It’s really stretching me in terms of my social skills. I’m practicing patience and kindness.”

For young students like Zurie Petlick and her mom, kindness and connection are as important as the math or grammar support. Zurie is being tutored by Annie Smaldone ‘21; they meet three days a week on Zoom, working through math problems or playing games like Map War or Proof. “It’s been great for Zurie and a lot of fun,” says Petlick. “She’s proud of working with Annie and even told a group of her friends on a Zoom call that she had to get off because she was meeting with her tutor.

“It’s truly amazing what they’re (the tutors) doing,” she says. “It helps the parents as well as the kids. I’d love to see this relationship last beyond this crisis.”

Cerrato would like to see these tutoring relationships continue, too. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to do in-person tutoring later and meet the kids in person,” she says. But in the meantime, “It’s nice to have something to do that I feel good about, especially in such an isolating time.”