Distance learning is the new norm for LA and many other cities during the pandemic. That’s made it tougher for some students who were already falling behind in the curriculum. Some high school students in Southern California decided that they could help by offering free tutoring sessions.
KCRW speaks to two high schoolers who started two different nonprofits to help. Annette Yuan is a junior at Irvine High School and founder of Girls Empowering Girls, part of Study Smart Youth Services. Emme Shaffer is a senior at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks and founder of Tutor Together.
KCRW: Emme, why did you want to start Tutor Together?
Emme Shaffer: “When the pandemic hit, I learned a lot of low income families and their students weren't receiving enough facetime with their teachers, if any, for that matter. And they were receiving insufficient packets to complete within the span of a month. And I really just thought that's no way to learn. I value my education so much, and I didn't want others’ education to be at risk due to the pandemic. So I founded Tutor Together to help promote educational equity, and just to make sure that students weren't falling behind due to the pandemic.”
How many tutors do you have altogether? And how many students are you tutoring?
Shaffer: “We have 60 tutors altogether. I started out with just like 10 of my friends tutoring, and we've grown to 60. And we tutor over 600 students internationally.”
Girls Empowering Girls is a little different than Tutor Together. What do you guys focus on? And why did you choose to start it?
Annette Yuan: “Before the pandemic hit, I used to travel a lot, and I have a lot of relatives, specifically in China. And so when I visited them, I had met a lot of students who are learning the English language, but they felt very uncomfortable conversing in English. And so it gave me the idea to provide a source of English learning to anyone who is in need.
Also, during quarantine, I felt personally that I was lacking human connection. And so I really decided to put the idea into action. So we tutor all ages, from anywhere, anyone who is having trouble with their English skills. We have a lot of students in China right now. But I am looking for students in Germany, and I have one student there already.”
Girls Empowering Girls is now part of a broader program called Study Smart Youth Services. Tell us more about that.
Yuan: “Initially, we started as an independent program. However, I reached out to a couple of other tutoring programs in my area, and we decided to pull our resources together and merge into one organization. And I think it was a really good move because it allowed us to better serve our community and share experiences with each other.”
Why was it important that you made these sessions free?
Yuan: “Personally, I don't think that any of our tutors are actually in it for any monetary gain. I think our purpose was to make connections and serve the community. … We're really good with making sure that everyone has time and is handling everything really well, especially in this time with quarantine and school. It's really different and difficult for a lot of tutors, especially here, so we try to make everything flexible.”
Shaffer: “Our target demographic is low-income families who don't have the resources or access to additional help. And I have always been cognizant of the privilege that I've had in life. If I ever need to text a math tutor [to get extra tutoring help], I can so easily do that. And I think that's a huge advantage that I have. And so I wanted to promote equity and level the playing field, because I don't think socioeconomic status should be a determining factor of academic success.”
A lot of people are feeling helpless during the pandemic. How does tutoring make you feel about yourselves?
Shaffer: “One of the reasons I started Tutor Together was because of my love of curiosity, and I just wanted to help students embrace their own curiosity. I'm seeing that session by session, students [are] becoming more interested and asking more questions. And that's honestly so rewarding, because I get to instill in them exactly why I started Tutor Together.
And then also just hearing emotional feedback from parents who are going through really difficult times, whether it's a single mother who works all day, or a family with six kids who don't have equal access to the internet. Just hearing the messages from them about how we've supported them during this time, I think makes everything worth it.”
Yuan: “For me, personally, like the title or name really ties into the whole thing: Girls Empowering Girls. I wanted to focus on the female population because I wanted to show them and encourage them that they can do anything. I think it's vital that women around the world know that they are powerful. And even just helping a few girls be a little bit more confident with their conversational skills in a different language — it has had a really big impact on me and it's certainly very important.”