In the light of school closures due to the Coronavirus, two high school seniors, Uditha Velidandla and Sarika Sriram, set up a free online program for elementary and middle schoolers through the Almaden South Asian Women’s Association.
After learning about the 3-week school shutdown on Friday, March 13, Velidandla and Sriram put in more than 24 hours over the course of two days preparing lesson plans and the technology needed to go live on Monday, March 16th, the first day of the shutdown. Their main goal?
“To give parents enough time to find an adequate replacement for formalized education”
Over three days, their volunteer-run program grew from 6 students per grade to more than 50 students in each grade. In the second week now, the program includes over 400 students and 90 volunteer tutors.
All classes are run on Zoom, an online video conferencing platform. “By using Zoom”, Sarika explained, “the social aspect of class is still present. The students and the teachers can see each other, and lessons are more interactive.”
For elementary schoolers, the program consists of lessons taught by high school student volunteers from 9 am to 3 pm. The curriculum is based on various sources, including textbooks used in local elementary schools, and state standards. “We wanted to ensure that we were keeping the kids engaged while helping them refresh concepts learned in school earlier in the year. We know from experience how easy it is to forget material over an extended break.”
The successful first week included classes such as mathematics, reading comprehension, creative writing, and also STEM-based experiments and activities, Hindustani and Carnatic music lessons, and an arts class.
They announced this week that they have expanded their program to include a middle school.
“There was a high level of demand for a middle school program. We are fortunate to have enough volunteers who are willing to teach the middle classes.” says Uditha. “None of this would have been possible without the help of our dedicated volunteers- they have spent countless hours with us along the way, from planning the curriculum to teaching classes and responding to questions on our behalf. Both Sarika and I are very grateful for all of our volunteers.”
They are also trying to work with the San Jose Unified School District to make their lesson plans available to children in San Jose who are unable to access e-learning.
“It is heartwarming that we have been able to contribute to the community that has given us so much. We hope to be of similar assistance to communities that do not have easy access to e-learning infrastructure. We are proud of the fact that we hit the ground running and that the program has continued into its second week”, they say.
They have received positive feedback from parents, receiving messages and emails that are similar to this one parent’s experience:
I’m amazed how all the kids and tutors have progressed so well, to get comfortable with the online learning concept, with order and respect, in just 4 days of classes. Today WhatsApp has been very quiet, which is awesome! Congratulations to all tutors, organizers, and students. And I must say my kid is quite eager to attend classes and loves ‘seeing’ his friends and future middle-school friends in the e-world. Thank you all.”
It has not been all smooth sailing for the two founders. They continue to spend 12 to 15 hour days bringing this service to the community. “In addition to adapting our communication styles, we have had to iron out technical issues and assist tutors in managing online classroom behavior. We have taken the help of parent volunteers to ensure that the classroom is a welcome learning environment for everyone.”
Suchitra Patri is the founder and president of the Almaden South Asian Women’s Association. She is an accountant by profession and enjoys reading and spending time with her family in her free time.