Great Bend USD 428 is moving ahead with a plan to offer online tutoring to students in grades 5-12. The $101,448 purchase on a 12-month contract with a company called Paper received the school board’s approval Monday, but the vote was not unanimous.
Board members Deanna Essmiller and Chad Burrows had reservations. Although they voted “no,” both said they hope administrators will see positive results and asked for ongoing reports on its use and success.
Assistant Superintendent Tricia Reiser presented information about Paper and explained that funding for the next 12 months will come from federal ESSER money. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program provides school districts with emergency funds to address the impact COVID-19 has had on elementary and secondary schools. ESSER dollars can be applied to this purchase because it can be used to combat learning loss experienced when students were only able to attend school through remote programs, Reiser said.
With Paper (www.paper.co), students can get on-demand tutoring in English and Spanish. The company says it provides learners with unlimited 24/7 homework help, writing feedback and study support. It says that within 30 seconds a student can be connected to a live tutor and the tutors are specialists in 200 academic topics.
However, Essmiller said she looked up complaints from schools in other states that have used Paper, and some reported that students don’t always have quick access the entire time they are logged in.
Why it is needed
Reiser said a needs assessment was done at district schools in December and January. It showed that there weren’t enough adults available to offer after-school help to students at Great Bend High School and Great Bend Middle School. With this new service, if a student needs extra help with math, for example, he can go to after-school help or log in to Paper.
“I think this will be really good for our athletes, for students who are in other after-school activities, and students who don’t have access to (the after-school help),” Reiser said. “Everything is recorded; when a student logs in for their help the teacher is notified and there is a report on what was discussed.
“Another great thing that I like about Paper is that they have an essay review component. A student could submit their draft writing and within 24 hours have some annotated suggestions,” Reiser said. She added that teachers might use this feature in class.
“I really believe that this is something that we need,” she said.
Board member Essmiller said she went online to see what she could learn about Paper. However, because it is relatively new, she didn’t find much.
“This whole industry has popped up since COVID because of a loss of learning. It does sound really good,” she said, but a Florida school that tried it found students didn’t use it. That was her biggest concern.
“We know that kids who suffer the most are the ones who aren’t getting on it,” she said. In the Florida school, "they struggled to get students to participate, particularly the students who need the most support.”
Board member Burroughs said 24/7 online tutoring is great in theory but he knows kids are busy after school, sometimes even late into the evening, so when will they have time to log in? “That’s my biggest hang-up, getting kids to log in – physically getting them to do it.”
Essmiller wondered if the district could try out the program first. She also found comments from actual users who said they found the service was difficult to use because teachers had to upload their assignments.
“That’s a very good point,” Reiser said. “Professional development will be very important. If you were to approve this today, we could start our professional development the first of September and be up and going the middle of September.”
As part of the professional development, teachers could then help their students log in to Paper on the district-issued Chromebooks that all of the students have. Because students get to take their Chromebooks home, the service will always be available to them. “That’s the beauty of it.”
She said the duty of uploading information won’t fall to teachers, but to Cody Cale, the educational support technician.
In answer to Essmiller’s other question, Reiser said, “No, I don’t know that a trial is available. I can definitely ask. We are the only school district in Kansas who is taking (this) initiative.”
Board president Jacquie Disque recalled that after-school help wasn’t always available in every subject when her daughter was in high school. There might be teachers who stayed after school to offer homework help, but if a student needed help with math it might not be a math teacher.
“At least this provides an opportunity,” Disque said. “I don’t think there’s a problem with continuing to have some type of formal group for them to go to, a formal place for them to go to after school, especially if they’ve got parents who aren’t going to get off work until 4:30 or 5, or they know that they need help and they know this is an option. If nothing else, they’ve got somebody else there to guide them through on this system.”
“It is a lot of money, but most things that are worthwhile are going to be expensive,” Disque said.