UPchieve, an application that provides around-the-clock free, online tutoring and college counseling for low-income high school students could be making its way to the First State.
The idea has the interest of the state’s Child Protection Accountability Committee, which last month heard a presentation of the app from Katy Laird, senior director of programs at UPchieve.
“We want to help the students that we serve graduate from high school, attend college and achieve upward mobility,” she said to the committee.
Students looking to sign up simply have to download the app or go to UPchieve’s website, enter their high school, grade level and zip code to confirm they are eligible, and sign up via email.
Students from Title I schools, which are schools where at least 40% of the student population lives below the poverty line, are given access to UPchieve.
In Delaware, there are 151 Title I schools, according to the Education Department’s most recent data.
If a student attends a high school that serves a majority of students that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, they’re also automatically qualified.
The same is true if a student’s zip code is a zip code where the average income is below $60,000 per household.
“If neither of those things are true, but they still feel like they are eligible for UPchieve, we send them to another form that they fill out,” Laird said. “They can answer questions like if they’re eligible for free and reduced lunch, or if their family is eligible for food stamps, for example, and then we can grant them access that way.”
The company provides add-on services to schools like data dashboards and professional development for a flat rate of $5,000 per year per school, Laird said.
Because the app isn’t widespread in Delaware, the company couldn’t point to First State users.
“I was going to college and a lot of kids already had tools and resources to help them with the college application process and would hire people privately, which usually costs a lot of money,” said Aaron Custodio, an UPchieve user from Queens, New York. He just started his freshman year at Yale University.
Since applying to more schools than a lot of his peers, having free advice on résumés and ironing out college essays made him feel secure that he submitted the strongest applications possible.
Child Protection Accountability Committee member Phil Keefer said that he was glad to hear that there are other ways for struggling students to qualify for the app if they aren’t officially in a Title I school.
Fellow member Julie Lane liked the idea of bringing the application to Delaware.
After signing up, a student will select one or several of the 24 subject areas, which range from math, science, writing and reading to standardized test preparation and college applications.
“I’ve reached out to the mentors at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. some nights and there’s people to help,” Custodio said. “There’s so many volunteers that many are across the country or globe, which allows students like myself to get help at any time.”
UPchieve has a network of more than 15,000 volunteers, who include retired teachers as well as high school and college students who might be interested in teaching.
Volunteers can apply to be a tutor on UPchieve’s website. Applicants will be screened and must pass training courses to become certified in a subject on the app.
The majority of tutors are available from noon to midnight, said Custodio. After that, there is usually a dropoff, but still plenty of tutors available.
The average time it takes UPchieve to connect a user with a tutor is less than five minutes, Laird said.
“We start matching them with a certified volunteer in that subject, and the user doesn’t request the session for any specific amount of time,” Laird said. “We’ve seen sessions that are over in 10 minutes, if a student has a quick and simple question, to several hours of session time if a student needs a lot of help.”
Laird said the primary feature of the app is its ability to work on any device and have tutors 24/7, since UPchieve users are exclusively low-income students and may face many barriers when trying to get the extra help they need.
“They may have after school jobs, they might not be able to afford tutoring, they might have childcare responsibilities after school that prevents them from accessing other help that’s available to them,” Laird said.”By offering them tutoring and college counseling that meets them where they are while they’re doing their homework, at home and online, we help them overcome those barriers.”
Irving Independent School District, located west of Dallas, Texas, has been using UPchieve since last winter.
James Tiggeman, assistant director of digital learning at Irving, said there are three main ways students in the district have been using UPchieve.
“One, just straight up, ‘I’m having trouble in a core subject like biology and I need you to explain to me mitosis and mitochondria’ and it’s just straightforward tutoring,” he said. “Two, we see it in that more nuanced tutoring like going to the writing lab in college and you get that deeper level of one on one.”
The second style of tutoring, Tiggeman said, is harder for the tutor and more challenging for the student because the tutor isn’t explaining some rote concept, but something that can be abstract and interpreted uniquely.
While he didn’t have much comprehensive data to share, Tiggeman said Singley Academy has 577 users, the highest n the district, with 170 tutoring sessions completed since students returned to school than two months ago.
School leaders instruct each student to log in at least once at the beginning of the year to make them aware of the resources UPchieve has, and many students have stuck with it, he said.
Custodio pointed out that he felt empowered to use the app, and never felt shame or embarrassment showing tutors his work, even if he knew it wasn’t the best.
“The tutors were always really empathetic and had no judgment whatsoever to my work,” he said. “There are a lot of kids who are falling behind because they might be scared to ask those questions to people. They can trust the mentors on the app to be honest with them and use every minute of the session to benefit the user.”
To date, UPchieve has served more than 20,000 students, providing 80,000 tutoring sessions totaling over 40,000 hours.
A student will typically need to use the app nine times to start seeing a difference, Laird said.
“We are proven to increase test scores and academic motivation,” she said. “This past year we did our first formal efficacy study and what we saw was increasing UPchieve usage increased Star Math results by nine percentile rank points. It also increased academic motivation, competence and engagement, and all of this was after an average of nine sessions on UPchieve.”
She pointed out that 27% of all students in Delaware are low-income.
“UPchieve can level the playing field for Delaware students from low-income backgrounds in Delaware by giving them the same access to tutoring and college counseling as their high-income peers,” Laird said. “UPchieve is actively looking for schools and districts to partner with in the state to deepen our impact and move our mission forward with the goal of ultimately providing upward mobility for the students who need it most.”
No action was taken by the committee.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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