Hope Brings Hope

Published on April 21, 2020

by Ellen Galinsky

Forever Memories emerge during unexpected times, times that herald a change—where the “after” is not the same as the “before,” and times that challenge us to adapt. Most of us will have forever memories of COVID 19, similar to the kind of memories we have for events like 9/11 or when President Kennedy was shot. Given the stress everyone is under, it would be easy for us to lose sight of the kind of memories we want to create for our children and ourselves. That’s why I am sharing stories from families who are thinking intentionally about this. These stories can inspire us all.

A high school junior creates a tutoring program for the children of teachers

When her high school classes switched to an online platform during the pandemic, Hope, a high school junior from the Los Angeles area, was impressed by how quickly her teacher adapted:

I was inspired by my teachers—how they continue to keep us engaged online.

These classes gave her a chance to see something else she hadn’t seen before—the family lives of her teachers, especially what it looks like for them to try to do their jobs AND to take care of their own children—all at the same time.

In addition, she realized that some of her teachers’ children were getting short shrift.

Some had only 2 ½ hours of classes a day; others had very little face-time with and attention from their teachers; many had stretches of time that were just plain boring.

She says:

My teachers were providing us with a quality online education but they would lament that their own children weren’t receiving a quality education, if they received any education at all.

Finally, she saw how stressed her teachers were:

They were really feeling the effects of the pandemic.

On a Thursday before spring break, Hope had an idea: What about offering free on-line tutoring and group enrichment opportunities to the children of her teachers—and even to other parents whose children might need it? She says:

I thought that this could ease the burden on teachers. It could provide academic support and social connections for the children. It could also create some consistency in the lives of their children.

Because Hope has had learning challenges herself, she knows how important consistency is in the lives of children, even how hard spring break can be because the routines of school disappear. She knows too how important it is to teach in the way that children learn best.

Hope is not a stranger to community activism. She has been involved in a number of committees and organizations locally but she had never started anything herself.

Not until now!

Once she had the idea, she got in touch with some of her classmates, inviting them to be tutors and those classmates invited others. If she and her classmates didn’t know a prospective tutor, they interviewed them, asking them about how they liked to learn and teach.

Next, they began to recruit families whose children might benefit from having older students as tutors. To spread the word, Hope and the other tutors reached out to their teachers, to the organizations they knew and to their synagogues and churches.

Within 5 days, they had 32 tutors and 200 children!

The tutoring is free because they want to serve families who might not be able to pay, but they do ask families—if they can—to make donations to charities to help with coronavirus relief and to help close the digital divide.

Here is how it works. When families contact Hope after receiving their flier, she contacts all of the tutors saying, “We have a 4 th grader who is interested in Spanish, Math and Biology. Can anyone take him on?”

Within minutes, she says, she has a volunteer. Then she reaches out to the parent and writes, “I have found an amazing match for your child. I am including one of our wonderful tutors on this email so that the two of you can connect and schedule some sessions. Your child is in the best of hands with them!”

Before the tutoring officially begins, the tutor, parents and child schedule a 15-minute introductory meeting to talk about what the students want to learn and how they learn best.

Her own learning challenges have provided Hope with insights about the style of tutoring she wants. Hope and her fellow tutors are adamant about providing engaging learning! She talks in ways that may sound trite: “We want to unlock every students’ potential;” “We want to make learning enjoyable for all students, especially those who have been excluded like neuro-diverse students or English language learners;“ or “We want to create safe places where everyone can learn,” but these tutors seem to be doing everything they can to walk the talk.

Hope, for example, has been working with a 6 th grader on essay writing. She helped him learn skills, like annotating what he has read, making an outline, selecting evidence to back up his argument, then writing and rewriting till he gets it right. Hope is careful not to do anything for him, but simply to ask him guiding questions so “he can do things for himself when I’m not there.”

A third grader she has been tutoring in Spanish was not going so well. After a false start, Hope figured out that if they played hangman with new vocabulary words, it would be more fun. And a group class she is teaching on women in history focuses women from very diverse backgrounds who have been change-makers.

The name they selected for this endeavor is “Bored of Boredom,” which turns out to be fitting since the emails Hope receives from families testify that their children are the opposite of bored—they are fully involved.

And all of that was during Spring break. Now that their own classes have resumed, Hope says that Bored of Boredom is continuing:

The tutors are continuing to work with their students at lunch time and after school. It is inspiring to see how dedicated they are. They are giving the time they have to make others’ lives better.

“It’s like my name,” she says. “I like to bring hope.”

Adolescence is a time when young people’s brains are wired to be uniquely receptive to specific kinds of experiences and thus an ideal time for learning from these experiences, such as exploring who they are, what they care about, and what ignites their passion for learning. One of their key developmental needs is to find ways to contribute to others. Adolescents who find or are given ways to contribute are taking an important step on the way to adulthood.