A non-profit organization offers free classes for children


By Kathleen J. Sullivan

When school kids enrolled in Step Up Tutoring gathered online for movie nights over the summer, they provided entertaining chat commentary during the movies and had lively discussions about their favorite post-credits moments.

Jayden Williams is one of more than 800 Los Angeles students receiving free private tutoring online through Step Up Tutoring, which was co-founded by a Stanford student and an alum during the pandemic. (Image credit: Owen Dubeck)

One evening after the movie ended, the kids asked if they could stay on the Zoom call with their host, Amy Wentzel, a Stanford senior majoring in science, technology, and society at the School of Humanities and Sciences.

“I said ‘yes’ of course, and we ended up talking another 45 minutes,” said Wentzel, who is an intern on the nonprofit organization’s education team. “They wanted to know everything about my student life and we dreamed out loud about what their future might look like. It was an amazing bonding experience. “

During the day, students enrolled in the program, which serves students in Grades 3 through 6 in the Los Angeles Unified School District, met one-on-one with tutors in online sessions tailored to their needs. and educational interests. In the evenings, they took part in group activities – game nights, origami classes, Spanish book club meetings, cardio encounters, art classes, meditation sessions, CPR demonstrations and more.

“I love, love, love seeing kids interacting with each other on Zoom,” Wentzel said. “Because Step Up Tutoring is a virtual program, the kids don’t have too many opportunities to interact with each other in person, but we’ve built a strong community nonetheless. “

An idea born out of circumstances

During the summer of 2020, Daniel Halper was a rising senior studying product design at the School of Engineering and living at his home in Los Angeles. He learned that students in the city’s underfunded communities were struggling academically and emotionally due to school closures and stay-at-home mandates linked to the pandemic.

“We started Step Up Tutoring with the idea that we could change all of that,” said Halper, BS ’21, who co-founded the group with former Stanford student Nati Rodriguez, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree, technology and society in 2003, and a master’s degree in education in 2004.

Halper said the school district’s decision to hand out Chromebooks and provide high-speed internet access gave Los Angeles schoolchildren the technology they needed to attend tutorials and get together online – and brought made the Step Up Tutoring possible.

The organization, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with the school district, currently offers free one-on-one online tutoring and mentoring to more than 800 students aged 8 to 12. Most of the students come from Latinx families.

To identify students who could benefit from the program, Rodriguez contacts school principals, who contact teachers, who talk to parents.

Match guardians with children

In an online questionnaire, parents choose their reason for enrolling their child in the program from a list of options that includes difficulty with English, reading or math; a need for mentorship; and regular classroom material which is too easy. Parents also indicate whether their child’s primary language is English or Spanish, and identify some of their child’s interests: animals (animals); art (art); creative writing (escritura creativa); dance (lease); music (music); science (science); sports (deportees); and video games (videojuegos).

Volunteers, who coordinate their schedules with the student’s family, agree to devote two hours per week to tutoring students for at least 12 weeks.

Step Up Tutoring trains volunteers in the principles of tutoring, in particular online tutoring. The organization also provides lesson plans for tutors that begin with a fun 10 minute activity followed by a 40 minute academic session and end with a 10 minute game focusing on topics other than math and English. .

Jamie Halper is Jayden Williams’ tutor. (Image credit: Owen Dubeck)

Since its founding, 49 Stanford students and alumni have taught and / or interned with the nonprofit organization.

Halper is the group’s program coordinator and chief technology officer. He is also a tutor.

He recently started his second year of tutoring at Jayden, who has just started fifth year. Last year they worked mainly on math – multiplication with two-digit numbers and long division. They also read books and studied geography, and created a music video using coding.

“I think Jayden appreciates the individual attention,” said Halper. “Just having an adult listen to her and hear about her day seems to make a big difference. On the academic side, we are working on mathematical concepts that he probably couldn’t grasp without someone to answer his questions.

Anthony Beron Jr., a Stanford senior specializing in aerospace engineering, tutored two boys as a Step Up Tutoring volunteer – helping one with English and encouraging the other to pursue their big dreams of creating shows for Nickelodeon.

Beron said guardians are like understanding older siblings, ready to answer any questions the kids might ask.

“Sometimes all we do is talk about their missions, but sometimes we also talk about everything they love, like cartoons and games,” he said. “We are really there for the kids.

Step Up Tutoring has a waiting list of 150 children and is looking for tutors with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree – or are in the process of obtaining one – who enjoy working with children. To learn more, visit the Step Up Tutoring website.


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