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Willis ISD Uses COVID Funds for Year-Round Online Tutoring

Willis Independent School District in Texas has put $245,000 toward a three-year contract with the online tutoring company Paper, which makes tutoring and essay review available to students 24/7.

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(TNS) — Willis Independent School District students have a new tool at their disposal since the district launched its new partnership with Paper, an online tutoring service that is available every day, all year round.

"It provides us an option to integrate the whole school system. So, parents, students, and teachers," Sara Goolsby, assistant superintendent of teaching, innovation and learning for Willis ISD, said. "With other tutoring programs that we researched it was limited to certain stakeholders in education."

The district signed a three-year contract with Paper for $245,000, using federal emergency COVID funds. At least 20 percent of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds the district received have to be used to address learning loss. If the district chooses to continue using Paper after three years, it will use funds from the annual budget.

Superintendent Tim Harkrider saw the company give a presentation at last year's Region 6 Superintendents meeting. After meeting with Paper representatives and talking it over with district leadership, Willis felt it was a tool that could benefit the students.

"Just came to feel like it would be a great resource for our kids," Harkrider said. "Several of us have kids in the district and we're educators and there's certain things — homework-wise — that we struggle with as well."

Willis is a one-to-one district, all district students have access to their own technology. At Willis ISD, all students from sixth grade and up have a Chromebook that they can take home and use. Students younger than sixth grade have access to technology at school but can access Paper through a smartphone app.

Paper offers personalized online academic support through tutoring and essay review. It is available to students at all hours of the day, every day of the year, even in the summer. While the students are the main users of Paper, teachers will be able to converse with the online tutors to learn their students' needs.

"The tutors can also leave notes for the classroom teacher on what they worked the student on," Harkrider said. "So teachers are aware of what their students are struggling with."

Tutors are trained to identify when a student is at-risk or in need of assistance from a counselor. Goolsby said tutors can contact the district directly with concerns about individual students.

"Their safety measures as far as the social media aspect, the online aspect, was very robust and rigorous," Goolsby said. "We felt like it was a safe support system that we could expose our kids to."
Students will be able to access Paper through Clever, the district's online learning platform. Paper covers all district courses and subjects, Goolsby said, and can also offer support in Spanish.

The success of the program will be measured by how many students use Paper, how much time they are spending on it, and whether it improves their educational outcomes. The district will be gathering feedback from students about the program and why they choose to use it.

Under House Bill 4545, which took effect in 2021, students that fail the state STAAR test are required to go through 30 hours of remediation per test failed. The hours that students spend using Paper can be applied to these hours of remediation.

"We've all struggled with trying to figure out an efficient and effective way to meet that mandate and not cripple what we were doing for kids," Goolsby said. "This gives us an immediate way to monitor hours on students on specific courses."

©2022 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.