MADISON (WKOW) -- Despite months of virtual learning, some students are still struggling with the challenges of online classwork.
"You have to really be able to focus, and that's not something that their brains are yet developed to do that great," said Jennifer DuRocher, a mother of two in Middleton.
DuRocher's 9-year-old son Noah had a hard time with online learning in spring, so she knew when he returned this fall and her 6-year-old Lily started kindergarten, they would need some help.
"We needed someone that was able to understand the programs that the school was using, understand kids and how kids learn at different ages, which is very different," she said.
That's when they found Emma Prickett, who could not only care for the children who would be learning from home while DuRocher and her husband were at work, but also is a trained educator.
"They just kind of lost that love for learning," Prickett said.
Prickett started working to help the kids connect with their classwork at home, to overcome the frustrations of a computer screen. She helped develop routines and schedules.
Tutoring coordinator Kenneth Cole has also seen the pandemic's impact on the roughly 500 students that Urban League volunteers tutor at Madison and Sun Prairie middle schools.
"Students feel disconnected. Students don't have enough face time with the teachers or their peers and a lot of folks are just going crazy inside their houses and so they need somebody to connect with. And they also need somebody to support them, that the academic work that they're doing still matters and still can continue in excellence," he said.
The program, which is a joint effort between Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) and the Urban League, has adapted its services. They've moved all tutoring online and have started offering social and emotional support, in addition to the traditional math and literacy learning.
The free services are more important than ever now, as students face technology barriers that can deepen disparities. The group is offering virtual resource fairs to reach more families.
"A lot of the learning is happening at home, so the parents are there. So if we can connect with the parents, then we can connect with the students in the right way," Cole told 27 News.
The DuRocher family didn't start to see real results until they added another missing element: a neighbor who could learn alongside them.
"We've been struggling for months just like, I'm sure, hundreds of other families are. And this just this idea came out of a walk with a friend, where we were just talking about our frustrations," said DuRocher.
Their neighbor's son, also in elementary school, works on his school work at the DuRocher's home. They're on separate classroom plans, but all benefit from the motivation of other learners.
"The neighbor started coming over and it changed everything," Prickett said. "I think just having a peer over there just encouraged them, even without saying anything, to just try harder."
The pod-style tutoring has become essential for the kids' well-being, as they've developed a schedule and kept the students on track.
"Now, we have three kids that all concentrate, all are excited when they wake up in the morning, and are all getting their work done, which is...we never thought we'd see that," DuRocher said.
Experts say if kids are struggling with virtual education, try to help them find a way to get excited about the topic, through learning games or other fun elements. You can also talk with your child's teacher, who might have some ideas or projects you could bring home to help.