The way we live now doesn’t have much in common with how we lived two months ago. According to a recent report in the New York Times, local governments in the United States and Puerto Rico have advised more than 300 million people to stay at home and self-isolate. And as states and communities grapple with when and how to ease the restrictions set in place to flatten the curve, it is clear that schools are unlikely to reopen anytime soon. Therefore, educators, students, and families must come to terms with the limitations of tele-schools and remote learning.
In the weeks since shelter-in-place-orders, we’ve witnessed countless examples of everyday people rising to this challenge, succeeding, and helping people who need it.
We have demonstrated the importance and power of what’s possible when people collaborate generously and without pause, use their talents to make the world, uncertain as it has recently become a better place.
We’ve witnessed teachers keep hope alive for their students by continuing to show up and maintain their school’s community garden. We’ve learned how museums have kept the portals of imagination open through ingenuity and the use of remote resources. And we’ve found inspiration in the stories of teachers who are committed to going the extra mile to stay connected with their students in this time of social distancing.
As we continue toward an unknown future, we’re confident that adults and young people will continue to make that future one that is full of hope and new possibilities. Need further proof? Check out the story of Aidan and Erin Finn, high school students, and the founders of Tutor Teens, who truly put the concepts taught in project-based learning into inspiring action.
Before their schools in Cincinnati, Ohio closed on March 12th, Aidan and Erin Finn lived lives of typical high school students. They went to classes, spent time with their friends, played sports, and volunteered as tutors. They looked forward to the coming of spring and warmer weather. On occasion, they hustled to class after running late in the morning, sometimes with a friend, moving quickly through the quiet halls of their schools.
While much has changed for them and millions of their peers in the past two months, they’ve taken their “new normal” and transformed it into an opportunity to connect with young learners in their community. Aidan and Erin created Tutor Teens, a free online tutoring service available to Cincinnati-area students in years kindergarten through the eighth grade.
The idea to start Tutor Teens was kindled by their shared love of tutoring. Aidan, a junior at St. Xavier High School, and Erin, a ninth-grader at Seven Hills High School, both volunteered as tutors on their school campuses before they were closed. When a cousin reached out to them for help on their math homework, they both said: “Oh, that’s interesting.”
That’s because Aidan and Erin quickly realized that, in this shared time of staying at home 24-7, families were having a difficult time balancing working from home and the needs of the students in their lives. As Aidan said, “We saw stories on the news, and then on Facebook, about how hard it’s been for everyone, so we decided that we would make Tutor Teens to satisfy that need.”
Making it Happen
As the end of the current academic school year comes into sight, the Tutor Teens volunteer corps consists of forty high schoolers who serve as Homework Buddies, Homework Tutors, Activity Coaches, or Big Siblings. But it’s important to note that that growth didn’t happen by accident. It took vision, planning, and utilizing the marketing skills of their mother to make it all happen.
“We knew the screens, and—being students—we knew school, and so we decided we’d combine the two of them. We used our background in tutoring along with our knowledge of helping little kids to start Tutor Teens,” explained Erin.
They started with a bit of organic outreach which came via a simple survey sent out to friends and family asking if they knew of any learners in the K-8 age bracket who might need tutoring help. With the information and feedback they received, Aidan and Eric were able to start expanding their roster of young learners.
When Aidan and Erin felt they were ready to take the next step, they went about designing a website and a logo. Making it happen meant a crash course, taught by mom, in digital design.
More than that, their mom’s work in marketing and life experience offered great wisdom for the two teens: “My mom is really great at teaching that we have to be one step ahead, so we’re ready for anything that could be thrown at us. We also have to be patient. You have to be persistent, but you also have to be patient. Things will happen at their own pace. So don’t try to force something to happen,” explained Aidan.
After launching the site, they took to both social media and their original routes of outreach, talking with their friends (and, then, friends of friends). They also took a bit of advice from one of Erin’s teachers and reached out to local schools directly. In what seemed like no time, their word-of-mouth strategy worked, with local school board members posting about Tutor Teens online, and local news stations running a story on the Finns.
One of the most welcome developments Aidan and Erin have witnessed is the enthusiasm of not just the young learners they interact with online, but of the students from across the city who have signed up to help as well. “We’ve had a lot of students who are just constantly coming in and asking, ‘How can I help?’ There have been so many people from my school constantly wanting to help with this program, wanting to help their community.”
Coming to terms with our new confined lives is different for everyone. It can be difficult. The lack of access to what we’d been accustomed to every day has taken its toll on people of every age, no matter where they are. And that’s no different for Aidan and Erin. Yet, they’ve found that, despite the absence of normality, their current work provides ample motivation.
For Erin that motivation comes from connection: “Since I can’t go out and see my friends, this is a way I can do something that connects me to people. I get to meet kids in twenty different elementary schools. I can help these students. I can talk to them. I can be a mentor. It’s one of the few ways I can do the things I used to do, so why not give it my all?”
Are you a student who has done something to help your community during this time? Do you have ideas about how to build community in remote learning environments? Send an email to [email protected].