Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 22, 2022

Changes in University policy leave Tutorial Project unable to provide bussing for students

By HELEN LACEY | December 11, 2021

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The Tutorial Project has been serving the Baltimore community for 63 years by offering free after-school tutoring to elementary school students. The project is back in person this semester, but with one crucial difference: The program no longer has a bus service to transport students from their schools to the Homewood Campus. 

The program typically provides tutoring to approximately 120 children from Baltimore City public and charter elementary schools each year. This year the program has seen a decline in enrollment and more sporadic attendance due to the lack of reliable transportation.

The Baltimore City Public School Systems underfunding creates barriers to student achievement. The poor conditions at many schools and lack of resources in the district pose challenges for parents, teachers and students alike, contributing to educational inequity

In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Josena Joseph, one of the organization's student directors, addressed how the Tutorial Project aims to fill gaps left by the education system.

“We have access to resources [children] might not necessarily have at their schools, and we reinforce skills that fall through the cracks as a function of large class sizes that are endemic to Baltimore public schools and charter schools,” she said.

The program’s one-on-one tutoring method brings children who may fall behind in school up to grade level in English and math. Children come to the Homewood Campus after school to learn and bond with their tutors, who specialize their sessions to cater to student needs.

Stephanie Chou, a third and fourth-grade math and science teacher at Harlem Park Elementary School, recounted the positive impacts she has seen the Tutorial Project have on her students.

“One of our students — who was pretty strong with her math, but she definitely needed gaps filled in... for the past two weeks [has] been doing everything on her own,” she said.

Chou also noted that the Tutorial Project encourages students to become more engaged with their schoolwork when they're inside the classroom and gives students the opportunity to come to Homewood Campus and meet children from other Baltimore neighborhoods, an experience her students might not otherwise have.

Senior Deepa Ravindra, the Tutorial Project’s other student director, emphasized that the program not only provides educational opportunities but also builds relationships.

“The program fosters a friendship between the student and their tutor, which helps them have a friend outside of their family or outside of their neighborhood,” she said. “Sometimes, for kids, they really appreciate that because it gives them an outlet, someone else to talk to that they don’t usually see all the time.”

Ravindra noted that in the past, the relationships that tutees built with one another were strengthened by their experiences on the bus.

“The bus is the place where a lot of friendships are fostered between the kids [and] organizers because when the kids are at Tutorial, they’re with their tutor, and it’s very much education driven,” she said.

The Tutorial Project’s bus service has come to a halt as a result of changes to the University’s transportation vendor policy. Organizations are now limited to a select number of University-approved vendors, none of which fit into the Tutorial Project’s current budget. The bus service previously used by Tutorial – which it would be able to afford with its current budget – is no longer University-approved and cannot be used, despite the Project having already paid a lump sum for services.

According to Joseph, the vendor was paid prior to students being sent home during the pandemic, and the credit can only be used this year. Additionally, the University has not offered to reimburse these funds or cover the cost of a new vendor.

Senior Niki Trivedi, who has been working with the Tutorial Project since her freshman year, spoke about the crucial role of providing transportation to students.

“I think [the bus] is the most important aspect of Tutorial because the mission of these pre-mentoring and tutoring programs is to serve technically underserved communities,” she said. “If we aren’t providing the most basic necessity for them to reach Hopkins campus, it’s totally inaccessible.”

Trivedi also discussed how she personally has seen the lack of transportation affect parents.

“[For] one of my pairs, the father had to take a Lyft every time to go to pick [his kids] up from school and then drop them off here, which got super expensive,” she said. “They only had one car, and his wife was working. I know there are several instances like that, where parents are taking public transportation and taking time off work to make sure their kids can come this semester.”

Sharina Thompson, a parent whose child has been working with the Tutorial Project for three years, noted in an interview with The News-Letter that reinstating the bus services offered prior to the pandemic would make transportation easier for her and her child.

“[A bus] would mean a lot. It’d be a lot of stress off of me about who is going to take him if he is going to go,” she said.

Thompson’s job as a flagger means her work schedule is unpredictable, which can make it challenging to ensure her son can reliably attend tutoring. Although the lack of transportation is inconvenient for Thompson, she emphasized her love for the Tutorial Project, which she stated has taught her son how to read at an outstanding level.

Chou personally drives four students from Harlem Park Elementary to the Homewood Campus every Monday for tutoring. She also drives them home once tutoring is complete, typically arriving at her own home around 7 p.m. Chou feels a bus service is essential to increasing participation in the program. 

“I drive four students only because there are four other seats in my car. If I could drive more, I would,” she said. “[A bus service would] be a game-changer... We could have 15 students [at Hopkins].”

Ravindra noted that the lack of a bus service is problematic for Tutorial Project because it limits access to the program to students who can find reliable transportation to the Homewood Campus.

“We are obligated to uphold that responsibility, that we preach that we have in the community, and in order to do that one of the core tenants is equitable access to education,” she said. “If we don’t have bus transportation that we can get out to these families every single session like we have in the past, then that is inequitable access to education.”

Although there are virtual tutoring options for students, Ravindra and Joseph stated that this alternative can also be inequitable. The Tutorial Project has lent out devices to families who have expressed need, but students often do not have access to stable internet connections and therefore cannot fully engage with their tutor.

According to Joseph, the lack of a bus this semester has also resulted in increased absences and reduced instruction time for students in the program.

“Tutees have been struggling getting to Tutorial on time and therefore aren’t able to improve as much as they could have had our program been able to provide the bus,“ Joseph said. 

The Tutorial Project is asking the University to increase its list of vendors or expand the program's budget so that it may provide reliable bus transportation to tutoring, preferably by the spring semester. 

Kelly Milo, an associate director at the Center for Social Concern (CSC), addressed some of these issues in an email to The News-Letter.

“Due to the pandemic, the budget process was challenged and impacted. Ultimately, funding is determined in coordination with Homewood Student Affairs staff and the JHU Business Office,” she wrote. “While some operational expenses have increased for the CSC and impacted the FY22 budget, staff are continuing conversations with appropriate departments which will help inform a decision for JHU-provided bus service in spring 2022 and beyond.”

Leela Gebo is a tutor with the Tutorial Project and Editor-in-Chief at The News-Letter. She did not contribute to the reporting, writing or editing of this piece. 

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