Asian Reporter, V31, #2 (February 1, 2021), pages 7 & 15.
Teens tutor peers online to fill need during
By Cedar Attanasio
The Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. — When her suburban Dallas high school was
forced to move online last spring because of the coronavirus
pandemic, Charvi Goyal realized that the schoolmates she’d been
informally tutoring between classes would still need extra help
but wouldn’t necessarily be able to get it. So she took her
tutoring online, as well.
Goyal, a 17-year-old high school junior from Plano, roped in
three classmates to create TutorScope, a free tutoring service
run by high schoolers for other kids, including younger ones.
What started with a handful of instructors helping friends’
siblings in their hometown has blossomed into a group of 22
tutors from Texas, Arizona, and Ohio that has helped more than
300 students from as far away as South Korea.
"I could foresee that schools were going to go virtual. And
with that there were a couple of problems because the
interactions between students and students, and students and
teachers, would be weakened," Goyal said.
TutorScope provides the one-on-one support that teachers have
traditionally given while roving the aisles of their classrooms
but now often can’t because of the time and technology
constraints posed by online schooling.
On a night near the end of the fall semester, tutor Avi
Bagchi worked with seven-year-old twins Monika and Massey Newman
on a reading comprehension lesson about discerning between fact
and opinion. During their half-hour video chat, the 16-year-old
Plano West Senior High School student provided the children from
nearby Corinth with examples — it’s a fact that the pen is red
but an opinion if one doesn’t like it — and reined them in when
they got off topic a bit: Can’t it be a fact that someone holds
"I love candy. That’s a fact ..." said Massey, "... because
it’s true," he and his sister said in unison.
Their mother, social worker Sarah Newman, said the twins’
TutorScope sessions have been really helpful and have freed up
her and her 17-year-old son to focus on their own work.
"With these tutors, I realize they have time," she said. "I
think they are very patient with these younger kids, which I do
not even have as a mother. I have patience in other things,
(but) I don’t have patience in the teaching."
Newman discovered TutorScope a few weeks into the fall
semester on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social-media app, and
signed up her twins for sessions, which can be up to an hour
each week per subject.
"At the time I was even looking for tutoring for them, like
private tutoring, and every spot that I hit was too costly for
those two kids. I’m like, I can’t afford it," Newman said.
TutorScope isn’t the first nonprofit to offer online tutoring
and is just one of the workarounds people have come up with to
educate kids during the pandemic, from a teacher in Nigeria who
grades homework from around the world to a so-called sidewalk
school in Mexico that offers online instruction to children,
including some stuck at the border awaiting decisions on U.S.
What makes the TutorScope effort unique is the bond between
the teenage volunteers and the peers they’re helping.
"We kind of want to keep the whole ‘for students by students’
thing really prominent since it provides a sort of solidarity.
Because everyone is going through the same thing, you know that
your tutor is also having the same struggles learning right now
that you are," Goyal said.
The group accepts donations from adults but limits volunteers
to students, including at least one college undergrad.
Now in their third semester, the TutorScope board has secured
nonprofit status from the IRS and persuaded a software company
to give them free access to a scheduling platform. Jessica Ding,
16, manages the website and parent e-mails, Angelina Ehara, 17,
coordinates public outreach and social media, and Kaustubh
Sonawane, 16, runs the signup process.
The tutors, for their part, get experience that will look
great on a college or job application — no small thing with many
other extracurriculars shelved during the pandemic. They also
get a sense of whether they might want to teach full-time or run
a business or an NGO someday.
New tutors undergo limited training: they watch recordings of
tutoring sessions. But Goyal’s main request from prospective
volunteers is a passion for helping the kids they tutor
"Our system is pretty scalable. The only thing we really need
to manage (2,000) students would be more tutors," Goyal said.
Although the pandemic has forced many students to retreat
inward, Goyal said working with others on a big project has
allowed her to look outwards.
"My confidence level has increased," said Goyal, adding that
she’s made friends with kids from her school whom she’s never
met in person. Furthermore, running a growing nonprofit "does
help with the boredom" of being stuck at home, she said.
Attanasio is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report
for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a
nonprofit national service program that places journalists in
local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.