WEST CHESTER – Senator Andy Dinniman’s legislation creating a statewide volunteer teacher corps to assist students struggling with online or remote learning unanimously passed the Pennsylvania Senate this week.
Under Senate Bill 1252, students who are facing challenges with online or hybrid learning, as identified by their instructor, may be offered additional, one-on-one online or telephone tutoring and support from a retired teacher who offers their service free of charge.
“Online or remote learning does not work for every student and every family. Students across Pennsylvania, especially those in financially-distressed school districts, face significant challenges to online learning, including a lack of broadband connectivity, limited experience using technology, and gaps in parental involvement due to work schedules or other factors,” Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “This bill is part of a larger approach we must take to address the significant, unprecedented, and ongoing toll the pandemic is taking on our system of education.”
Dinniman said that he worked earlier this year to establish a Volunteer Teacher Corps. with the Chester County Intermediate Unit. The successful program, launched at the onset of the pandemic, consists of retired teachers offering their support to students in need of supplemental instruction, one-on-one tutoring, or remediation in certain subject areas.
As the need for virtual education increases due to the pandemic, the bill also calls for the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and intermediate units across the Commonwealth to assist in evaluating and sharing the impact of these tutoring programs, as well as investigating methods to provide wrap-around services and guidance virtually.
According to Dinniman, more than 40 percent of Pennsylvania public school students come from low- or lower-income families and face obstacles to online or remote learning due to the digital divide and other socio-economic factors.
“Many students who were struggling before the pandemic are now even further behind due to disruptions to the learning environment,” he said. “Meanwhile, leaders in Harrisburg are not looking closely enough at the potential for very significant, long-term impacts on an entire generation of young people. We need to act now to embrace creative solutions and innovative education programs and strategies to reach all students in need.”
Dinniman said he is also pursuing additional legislative measures to support learning during the pandemic like allowing student-teachers or those in the final stages of their teacher education to assist students who may be struggling with online education.
“As we move towards winter and the virus begins to resurge, we may see some schools shift back to a fully online model, which is all the more reason why we need to act now,” he said.
Senate Bill 1252 will now go to the House where Dinniman says he will work to get it passed when the legislature returns to session following the election.