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Tutors of the Highest CALiber

Steward's Center for the Advancement of Learning (CAL) continues to adapt its services to meet virtual and in-person needs.
Nestled within the Lower School is a space where students of all ages can read on, Zoom in, or chill out. You may have walked right past it without second thought, but for hundreds of Spartans over the past two decades, the Center for the Advancement of Learning (CAL) has made a lasting impact on their growth and achievement.

"We're sort of a hidden gem on campus," Director of CAL Yaa Akinfolajimi said. This year is Mrs. Akinfolajimi's first as director following Charlene Wilton's tenure, and together with CAL Administrative Assistant Cindy Arrington, the team is working to promote all that CAL can do to accommodate student and faculty success during this atypical school year.

"CAL is known for having the expertise to identify learning styles and finding just the right approach to allow our students to excel," Mrs. Arrrington said. "What is less understood are the many ways we can support every student enrolled at Steward."

As a cross-divisional instructional resource, CAL's mission is to facilitate learning through a variety of services. The department conducts student assessments and provides support materials for faculty and parents. Most notably, CAL employs a team of roughly 15 tutors offering one-on-one instruction tailored to each student's learning style and interests.

"It's rare to see the level at which our tutors and teachers can partner together to monitor and improve student achievement during school hours," Mrs. Akinfolajimi said.

Marsh Hayes, a teacher in the Lower School who has partnered with both internal and external tutors, describes Steward's tutor-teacher collaboration as "invaluable" to helping students shine.

"Being able to rely on existing relationships with tutors is crucial," she said. "We know each other and use the same language. We're aligned on making sure each child is cared for in the best possible way."

Known simply as the Resource Center in years past, CAL has since evolved into a robust enrichment service made possible by Mrs. Wilton's dedication to its growth as well as a generous $250,000 gift from the Robins Foundation in 1998 to be used specifically for CAL's expansion. Now, its tutors serve anywhere from 30 to well over 100 students at any given time.

"CAL is not a one-size-fits-all program," Mrs. Akinfolajimi explained. "Sometimes students just need help getting over a hump. After a month, they may not need our services again. Or, we have students who meet with tutors several times a week for a longer period of time. Whether it's a 20-minute session or an hour, we can accommodate for nearly any situation."

Recently, CAL has been offering fully integrated virtual tutoring sessions. For students learning at home, that means tutors and students can now meet within the comfort of their own separate spaces. Options are also available for on-campus students to Zoom with their tutors in the redesigned learning spaces, which are limited to one student at a time and are sanitized after each use. Additionally, tutors have been relocated to spaces within each division to allow for social distancing and proximity to students and faculty. CAL has also seen an uptick in visits from students who simply need space to decompress.

"Our focus goes beyond classwork. We are always looking at providing social and emotional support, because when those needs are met, students are better able to learn and grow," Mrs. Akinfolajimi said. She brings 12 years of experience as a social worker with Henrico County Public Schools to her current position, and her background in mental health counseling undergirds the vision for CAL she laid out earlier this year: "I believe that the responsibility for student success is a shared one, and that every child’s individuality must be respected and understood."
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