Frederick County Public Schools has moved a step closer to approving a contract for 24/7 virtual tutoring services that would be available to all middle and high schoolers.
The Board of Education voted unanimously during its Wednesday meeting to approve a “request for proposal” that would establish a contract between FCPS and Los Angeles-based TutorMe, LLC.
Out of seven bidding companies, TutorMe won the right to enter into the contract, the specifics of which have yet to be hashed out. If all goes as planned, the company would provide virtual homework help and tutoring services to 24,000 secondary students across the county.
The system would cost FCPS $17 per student, adding up to about $800,000 over the next two years.
To access help with homework, students would use the TutorMe platform to select a subject. Then, they’d type more specific topics into a field, and the software will match them with a tutor.
For example, a student could first indicate that they need help with algebra, then specify that they’re working on linear equations.
Students could message back and forth with tutors, and they’d have the option to activate their webcams or microphones.
Every tutor employed through the program is background checked, said Bill Meekins, a purchasing agent with FCPS. Only the student can choose whether they wish to stick to text messaging or chat via audio or video.
The system would automatically record everything that happened in the tutoring session, including audio, video, text messaging or drawings on the whiteboard function. Those recordings would be available to the students’ families and to the district.
“We’re really excited about it,” Saunders said. “I think it’s gonna be, hopefully, a really good service.”
Students rate each session out of five stars when it ends, Meekins said, and any session rated below four stars is automatically reviewed by the company. Sometimes, coaching is provided to the tutor in question.
Frederick County Public Schools teachers will teach secondary students how to use the software during school hours, middle school instructional director Tom Saunders told the board during a presentation Wednesday.
Saunders said he looked at other school systems that used the same platform. It’s important to schedule a time in every student’s day for them to learn the mechanics of TutorMe, he said, to make it as accessible as possible.
Teachers will be able to log into the platform and see which of their students logged in and how long they spent there, Saunders said. Plus, tutors would be able to leave notes for teachers if they think a student is still significantly struggling with a particular topics.
The vendor will be able to see what classes the students are enrolled in but won’t have access to the exact curriculum materials.
Students could upload their assignments to the platform so they can work alongside their tutor, Saunders said.
The program will be paid for through federal coronavirus relief funding, said FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban. Though it could assist students who are quarantined at home after exposure to the virus, that wasn’t its original intent.
Instead, Meekins said, the district began pursuing the idea as a way to help address learning loss caused by the pandemic.
“We saw this as a recovery issue,” he said.