Digital learning is more popular – and potentially more frustrating – than ever before, but a local student and her friends around the world are here to help
“It was just an idea I had,” says Lake Mary resident Mimi Sawhney, a high-school senior and founder of the new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Learn With Us. “I saw the need for it because everybody was going online to learn at once, and I saw how students and parents were struggling.”
Mimi rallied a few school friends and some out-of-state students she met through her school’s travel debate team and formed a squad of virtual tutors willing to work with students – for free – who needed a little extra help with their assignments.
“I began working on it with some friends, and it grew to be pretty big,” Mimi says. “Within the first couple of weeks, we had 30 tutors.”
Learn With Us was born, and today the group includes a pool of more than 80 tutors residing in five different states and three countries. To date, the organization has helped more than 300 students, and there are about five new inquiries for tutoring each day. Every Learn With Us tutor is experienced in core subjects from elementary to Advanced Placement levels, and the team expects to be very busy in the new school year.
Some of the student volunteers also agreed to handle certain administrative duties, such as marketing the concept, vetting new tutors, and communicating with parents through emails and a newsletter.
“I was so surprised with the number of students from my school who were so eager to help out,” says Mimi. “It was crazy to see the response from students who wanted to help the community.”
To request a tutor, parents sign into Learn-With-Us.com and arrange for individual sessions, which normally occur on a weekly basis.
“The parent and the tutor will communicate directly, and we check in with the tutor and see how their sessions are going, so we also have contact,” explains Mimi. “We also email parents with a feedback form to see if we can do anything better.”
The tutors use Zoom or FaceTime for their one-on-one video chats, whichever works best for the family.
All tutors are high-achieving high-school and college students.
“We do have an interview process with the tutors who join, and we don’t take every tutor who applies,” says Mimi. “We want them to maintain certain grades or SAT scores and to take advanced, mainly AP classes. We also try to get people that we know will work well with kids.”
With tutors from Massachusetts to the University of Toronto to China to the University of California, Mimi knows almost all of them personally and knows just what each tutor does best.
“We allow tutors to have a preference in what subjects they are tutoring,” says Mimi, “so they are tutoring subjects for which they are passionate. We can tutor almost any academic subject, from AP Chemistry to SAT prep.”
All Learn With Us tutors are volunteers, but their services do qualify for community service hours. However, Mimi reports most tutors don’t even require those in return.
“Most of the tutors do it because they want to help their community,” says Mimi, and some tutors even donated their own funds to purchase upgraded Zoom packages.
Some parents have offered to pay the tutors, but Mimi says the goal of Learn With Us is simply to help.
After such a positive response during the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Mimi and her team began offering summer group sessions to keep students engaged and learning during the break. Some of the sessions included classes in robotics, storytime, art, public speaking, and coding. Two to three tutors managed the group calls, which hosted about 30 or 40 students. Sessions occurred two or three times a week.
“We’d do an activity or teach them something for about 40 minutes,” explains Mimi.
For example, in math, Learn With Us hosted a session featuring tips and tricks for the Math Counts program. Another session prompted kids to write a story and have it published by another nonprofit organization.
Learn With Us is also partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and the Academy of Excellence. In each case, tutors join a Zoom call on campus and offer academic help to students. Learn With Us is recognized by the Florida Department of Education as a valuable free educational resource.
Since some tutors reside in China, and others, like Mimi, have studied Chinese, the group is now working on a program to teach basic English to Chinese students.
“We realized we could also tutor in China, and parents in China really love when students can learn English,” says Mimi.
The goal is to have bilingual tutors moderate the calls, with tutors teaching basic, conversational English.
With such a positive response to her team’s service so far, Mimi hopes her creation will be longstanding.
“Even though we started this because of coronavirus, I think this is something that people can use in the long term,” she says. “It’s something that everybody needs.”
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