Tag Archives: Tutoring

STEAMPower Bridges the Digital Divide

The coronavirus pandemic has penetrated nearly every sphere of public life, including our educational system. While many students can afford the work-from-home setup, young people in rural or marginalized communities are bearing the consequences of our current digital divide. To learn more about how to support equitable education, I had a chat with Avighna Suresh, founder, and president of nonprofit STEAMPower, which offers virtual tutoring sessions to students all over the world.

What prompted you to start STEAMPower? Why is equitable education important to you? 

Growing up in a family that has always provided me with educational opportunities and having always gone to private schools, I lived in my own little bubble of educational privilege for most of my life. The first time I was really faced with the reality of educational inequity was when I worked at an afterschool program in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco called Up on Top. Seeing the vastly different opportunities these children had in contrast with the opportunities I had at their age changed my perspective on the issue completely. I quickly realized that sitting around and being complacent was not an option; I had the privilege and resources to do something, and I felt the responsibility to do it. 

Equitable education is incredibly important to me because it’s such an important asset for success and really shapes your attitude towards the world in many ways. The fact is that it isn’t enough for simply education to be a right; everyone deserves the right to quality education, and we are seeing that now more than ever. 

What is your teaching philosophy? How do you structure tutoring sessions, workshops, and curriculum?

Our teaching philosophy is centered around the student. A typical first tutoring session is preceded by contacting the student about what previous experience they have in the subject matter they want help in, asking for any resources they would like us to use, and then using those resources to craft personalized learning plans. Our other programs like STEAMChangers, our curriculums, and our videos are structured around demand: how much do students and parents want to see the topic, and how will it change the landscape of STEAM? 

All of our work is done online through Google Meetings or Zoom, and we are always open to communicate through text or email. The beauty of technology is that it widens our reach in ways that just wouldn’t be possible physically. Tutors in Brazil are able to tutor students in California. It’s a really unique and wonderful way to experience understanding of universal concepts regardless of where in the world you are.

What challenges did you face in founding STEAMPower? Do you find it difficult to establish regular clientele because you’re a high school student? What resources did you tap into to form the robust nonprofit you have today? 

Founding STEAMPower was one of the most challenging things I have ever done: from finding people to help me run and advance the initiative to spreading our reach to impact as many people as possible, there were definitely many bumps in the road to get where we are now. The first biggest challenge was finding a leadership team and tutors who were really passionate about what they were doing.

After finding a lot of students, the next challenge became organizing and matching students and tutors. I was able to do this through email and Google Calendar, which is a great way to visualize how many tutoring sessions are happening in a day, and notify students and tutors that there is a session coming up soon. Our largest challenge was scaling our initiative, and broadcasting it worldwide.

As a high school student, it was initially difficult to pitch my idea to local leaders and adults. I knew that they were the best way to get the word out about STEAMPower to communities that needed us most. I sent around 70 emails, and only got responses and help from around 5, but that was more than enough to get the support I needed. 

The main resources that helped me the most in establishing STEAMPower were: 

  1. Local leaders who spread the word and enabled us to establish local presence.
  2. Social media and Instagram that allowed us to go worldwide and help students from around the globe.
  3. A nonprofit and startup accelerator called Hack+ that helped us achieve 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit status and secure funding and sponsorships.

How did the coronavirus change the scope and purpose of your nonprofit? 

With school closures came a lot less support and resources for those who need it. Many students need structure and guidance to effectively learn, and the compromised conditions of school during COVID-19 made it difficult for a lot of students to continue studying. Due to the coronavirus, STEAMPower’s purpose shifted completely to supporting students with remote learning through virtual tutoring and free educational videos to help some of those hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Currently, you’re developing curriculums for students in India, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. How do the curriculums differ along geographical boundaries? 

The primary differentiator for curriculums in different countries is the variance in classroom resources available to them to complete experiments and demonstrations that we weave into our curriculums, though we try to keep demonstrations largely accessible to everyone.

What is teaching students from different countries like? Do you face any linguistic and cultural barriers while teaching?

Having students and teachers from different countries is a great experience as it allows for a peek into the ways others live their lives, learn, and experience education. So far, there have been no linguistic barriers in tutoring. However, there are certain cultural differences as some countries and school systems may teach a certain formula that another doesn’t, or may have a different name from a concept. These small peeks into these subtle differences don’t inhibit the quality of learning or instruction, but it is interesting to acknowledge those differences.

What policies and programs do you think governments need to initiate to provide equitable education? 

It’s important that schools start providing unique, personalized support to students to help them succeed. We need to understand that students are diverse, and as a result have diverse needs. It’s not practical to assume that every student starts off at an even playing field. 

Schools need to stretch possibilities and challenge status quos that prevent certain students from achieving to the utmost of their ability. This begins primarily with teachers and faculty who are well-trained to address these issues and approach these problems with the intent to achieve the end goal of equity. There should also be specialized college access programs in schools/communities where there may be no access to college and further education opportunities otherwise. In addition, having diverse faculty to reflect a diverse student body is important. There are many steps schools can take, and while they may not eradicate the problem of educational inequity completely, any progress is a stride in the right direction.

Do you have any advice for students who want to help bridge the gap that plagues our education system today?  

My advice for students who want to bridge gaps in education is to take matters into their own hands. Whether it’s tutoring your siblings or neighbors, donating your old textbooks to those who can’t afford them, joining and supporting nonprofits and initiatives like STEAMPower, or reaching out to local representatives to propose solutions to problems you see, it’s important to turn dissatisfaction into action and do what you can, no matter how big or small. Though you may feel like you’re too young to make a difference, your voice is incredibly powerful.

With the coming academic year, schools are considering many possibilities in terms of teaching styles, attendance, etc. What are your thoughts on another year of distance learning? Should schools in the Bay Area open their doors? 

It really depends on the state of the pandemic and whether or not it is safe for students, teachers, and families. While another year of distance learning is not ideal, it may be what is necessary to protect lives and lessen the impact of the virus. In the meanwhile, it is imperative that schools ensure quality learning experiences for their students, whether it is virtually or in a hybrid environment. To me, quality learning means interactive instruction where students can get one-on-one help and clarify questions. In the meanwhile, STEAMPower is here to support anyone who needs us!

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton.

11th Grader Starts Free Virtual Tutoring Service

From all over the Bay Area, students have stepped up to the plate to aid their communities amid the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s the story of a Mountain View student who decided to help the people he knew best – students. Kanav Mittal, a rising senior at the Saint Francis High School, started Free Virtual Tutoring. True to its name, this youth nonprofit organization provides Zoom classes to students of all ages. Since its humble beginnings, Free Virtual Tutoring has established a clientele of 40 students, with 20 math and computer science classes. We had a chat with Kanav to understand FVT’s unique journey over the past few months.

IC: What prompted you to start FVT? While there are a plethora of tutoring services in our area, few offer free classes. Why (and how) do you teach at no charge? 

K: A couple of weeks after schools shut down in response to COVID-19, I read some Nextdoor posts from parents who were frustrated at how the school district was handling their students’ learning. Elementary-schoolers seemed to be the worst affected, as it is quite difficult to transition to online learning at such a young age. Knowing that many elementary schoolers were struggling and falling behind, I wanted to help, so I contacted my friend with an idea for a free virtual tutoring service. Free Virtual Tutoring was born.

We teach at no charge because we want our service to be accessible to everyone during these times of crisis. We want any student struggling with the burden of school closures and catching up in schoolwork to be able to come to us and seek help, and we don’t believe that money should be a barrier to this. 

IC: What is your teaching philosophy? How do you structure classes and curriculum? 

K: Our teaching philosophy is to build relationships with the students and teach concepts in a fun, engaging, and interactive way that takes advantage of these relationships. Why do we focus so much on relationships? Partly because many students, including us high schoolers but especially elementary schoolers, may be feeling isolated during this time. We hope that through Free Virtual Tutoring, not only can we support students academically but we can also support them emotionally by just being there to help them and by trying to connect with them.

Our classes, which are one hour long, consist of presentations, lots of practice problems, and a fun Kahoot! to wrap it up and review. Throughout our classes, we always try to relate to the students, putting in funny memes or cracking jokes that get students excited about learning. Interactive discussions and practice times during the classes allow us to engage the students more deeply in the concepts.

While creating the curriculum, we look at our old workbooks and consult our younger siblings for advice, some of whom have just finished up elementary school. We can also draw on our own memories – elementary school was not that long ago! Our curriculum is based on reviewing concepts taught in school and introducing more advanced topics to prepare students for the next step in their academic careers.

IC: What challenges did you face in founding FVT? Was it easy to build a consistent clientele? 

K: At first, it was quite challenging to figure out a system for how we would offer classes. What times? How would they be structured? How would they be conducted? Nevertheless, these questions were naturally resolved as we went through our first few weeks and became more skilled at running classes.

Another major challenge that we faced was outreach. As our team is just high school students, many times people do not take us seriously. To compound this, when it’s free, people often don’t believe in the quality. Therefore, it has been difficult to conduct successful outreach efforts and tell more students about our service. However, after receiving excellent testimonials from parents, and after parents have told their friends about our service, we have received many more signups!

Speaking of outreach, it was not easy to build a consistent clientele at all! Again, people would often not take us seriously. However, through our unflagging dedication to students’ learning and wellbeing, we have been able to build a group of students who consistently come. Since we see these students every weekend, we have basically become friends with them! 

IC: Your group teaches students from different age groups and learning capacities. How do navigate this kind of diversity, and make the material accessible for all? 

K: In each class, we have a minimum of two tutors, so while one tutor is presenting, another tutor is available to answer any questions via Zoom chat from the students. If a student is having a hard time on a concept, they can chat with our other tutor, who can work with them individually. On the other hand, if a student finds a concept too easy, our tutors can provide them with challenge problems to keep their minds stimulated.

Our individual drop-in help time is a great time when any student of any age group in K-8 or any learning capacity can come in to seek help. Just like during meetings, we not only can help students who have trouble understanding concepts but also help students who are looking for more challenging work. 

We also share all our materials with the parents afterward so that they can work on it with their children. We create worksheets that have dozens of problems with varying difficulty so that students of different age groups and learning capacities can all practice their skills. 

IC: According to your website, your tutors primarily focus on subjects such as computer science and mathematics. Are you planning on branching out into more fields? If so, which subjects can we expect to see offered at FVT? 

K: Yes! We are planning on branching out into more fields. We soon plan to begin advanced math classes (problem solving i.e. competition math) and advanced CS classes (Python). Perhaps in the future, we are looking into adding world language classes (Spanish and Chinese) and public speaking classes. The world language classes would focus on conversational skills to prepare students for middle-school and high-school level world language. Finally, we are very open to suggestions for new classes from parents and students.

We also offer individual drop-in help time, when we can help in almost any subject. These subjects have ranged from Spanish and writing lessons to learning how to play the game Roblox!

IC: With the coming academic year, schools are considering many possibilities in terms of teaching styles, attendance, etc. What are your thoughts on another year of distance learning? Should schools in the Bay Area open their doors? 

K: Obviously, distance learning has its disadvantages. From personal experience, I preferred in-person learning much more than distance learning. In-person learning allows for a deeper understanding of concepts through the face-to-face interaction students have with teachers – something that is difficult to replicate in distance learning.

Nevertheless, I feel that distance learning can improve. Most of the systems put in place by school systems from March onwards are likely going to be improved during the summer, as officials discuss how to best structure another potential year of distance/hybrid learning. 

Schools in the Bay Area should only open their doors if it is safe to do so, whether through a fully in-person or hybrid model. We must prioritize the health of everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IC: Do you have any advice for students who are trying to adjust to a virtual learning system? 

K: It is essential to stay organized. If your school does not have a designated schedule for classes, make one yourself, and do your work in the assigned time slots for each subject. 

One of the best things about in-person learning is the relationships you build with friends and classmates, so keep that going in a virtual learning system! Email or text them, or video call them to work on a project. It’s super important to stay in touch with your friends during virtual learning.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek help. We’re living in crazy times, and virtual learning is no exception. So, if you need any assistance in your schoolwork or in life in general, don’t hesitate to ask your teacher or parent, or you can come to us by signing up at freevirtualtutoring.org!

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. 

Global Education Company Supports Thousands of Students Through College Admissions Process

We’ve entered a new era in education, where the limitations of physical proximity and available resources for individual students have become less of an obstacle than they used to be.

But if we’re going to take advantage of these new opportunities, we need a new line of thinking and new approaches.

Enter Crimson Education

Crimson Education is a startup dedicated to connecting students from all over the world to resources, mentors, and career pathways that are right for them. Currently, the company has a network of more than 2,000 expert tutors, consultants, and mentors across the globe with 17 offices established in cities including: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Sydney, London, Bangkok, and more.

Collectively, these contacts work to help students to secure the best education opportunities for them, including admissions to Ivy League universities. Step-by-step support across a spectrum of tutoring is offered, including extracurricular and leadership advising, standardized test preparation, and more.

With a reported value of over $200 million, Crimson helped secure offers to every Ivy League university, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, for students around the world for the past 3 years. During the 2017-2018 admissions round, 50% of Crimson’s early applicants to Harvard in 2017 were admitted, over 3 times higher than the general early acceptance rate of 14.5%.

Main Areas of Development

So what makes Crimson stand apart from other tutoring and mentorship programs? The answer has to do with the firm’s main areas of focus and development.

  • Equal opportunities. Crimson aims to level inequities in education by offering more resources to a broader pool of students.
  • Individualized mentorship. The program also pairs students with consultants and mentors on a one-on-one basis.
  • Technology integration. Crimson also makes great use of technology: It gives students a visual roadmap to plan out their education, as well as regular reporting back to parents.

Crimson alone can’t change the world, but it’s certainly starting to make a difference. When the rest of our educational system to catches up, we’ll have smarter citizens, better job placement, and a better quality of life. To start your journey, book your free initial consultation today.

Also check out our Parents Breakfast in Palo Alto on March 27th where we will cover recent trends in college admissions and good ways to spend your summer break. Get a free ticket with the code IndiaCurrents.