By Lorena Grajales, Editor-in-Chief

In January of 2020, I started working as a tutor for GEAR UP, a UTC program that aims to support younger students in local schools by strengthening their academic skills, while preparing them for college. In person, I tutored in a classroom of about ten students, where there were various opportunities to make connections with each of them every day.

Once the pandemic consumed the country in every aspect, we had to somehow manage the transition to an online format. In my mind I wondered, “is it even feasible to create those bonds again through a computer?”

Well, yesterday I finished my second semester tutoring kids at the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy completely online, and I must say, I was blown away from overwhelming positive outcome despite the ongoing unique circumstances surrounding Covid-19.

As expected, interacting with middle school and early high school students through a screen was as challenging as it may seem. As we adjusted, the silent moments, delayed responses, technical challenges and discouraging one-way conversations were inevitable.

 I could not blame the students; they were just as exhausted of interacting in virtual learning as we were.

Despite what was against us, every day that I joined the virtual session I was determined to put my best foot forward into turning a simple language-arts tutoring session, into an enjoyable and relaxed time for them to de-stress.

Hearing about everything from the students’ best friends, pets, vacations, to famous relatives, struggles and hobbies reminded me of what I appreciate most about my job: the interpersonal connections.

They found a comfort zone in our theme days and diverse special events which included: A Super Bowl party, show and tell, skit day, a Mardi Gras party, the highly anticipated Doom Days and more.

Eventually, students emerged from their shells and opened to us about their backgrounds, highs and lows, dreams for the future, etc.

As we all know, everything good must always come to an end. It is always a bitter-sweet feeling to finalize a GEAR UP semester. The bitterness comes from shutting down the laptop and realizing the games, jokes, trolling and conversations are over.

The sweetness comes from knowing the purpose of the program is fulfilled in the students: to educate them on college knowledge and be a support system as they venture through the education system.

Looking back on the relationships I built not only with the students, but with the rest of the staff (all through Zoom) as well, made me realize that no matter how intensely it tries to, the pandemic does not have the ability to eradicate the fun, creativity and emotion out of everything in its path.

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