The Learning Bridge Program Manager Monica Wyatt spent about two years as a foster parent before starting to have kids of her own.

Through her experience with 10 kids over that time, Wyatt saw firsthand how foster youth need extra support to succeed.

“You’re with those kids,” she said. “You can’t not think about them.”

After 10 years as an educator with Austin ISD, Wyatt has spent the past year as the program manager for The Learning Bridge, an Austin-based nonprofit that pairs volunteer tutors with foster youth to provide free academic support.

The program serves about 50 foster youth at a time. As the program manager, a big part of Wyatt’s job is matching students with the right tutor for them.

The tutors must be age 20 or older, have at least two strong references, and be able to pass a background check. Tutors are expected to commit a year to volunteer with the program.

Wyatt said tutors should have a solid attitude for working with foster youth. She said the tutors “have a passion for what they do, and the kids respond really well to it.”

The Learning Bridge was founded in 2020 by Andrea Brauer, a social worker, foster parent and public policy advocate, Wyatt said. At the time, it was an initiative within the nonprofit Foster Village, which serves and supports local foster families. The tutoring program proved successful and became a standalone nonprofit in February 2021.

Wyatt said most students have fallen behind since COVID-19 disrupted the education system, but she believes youth were behind before the pandemic, and the gap has grown in the years following.

“When you’re in foster care, you don’t stay in one place for very long,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt said foster youth often have trauma that can make learning a greater challenge, and The Learning Bridge is “here to support in any way we can to get them back on track and caught up with their peers.”

The busiest season for the program tends to be at the beginning of each school semester in August and January as well as also around the midway point of each semester.

Around these times, The Learning Bridge will sometimes have to turn away students due to a lack of qualified tutors.

“We’re always looking for tutors,” Wyatt said.