A group of students and recent grads from the District and area have gotten together to offer free online tutoring and enrichment programs to middle and high school students. They say they’re doing it as a way to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on one aspect of the lives of affected families: their children’s education.
Learn it Together is the brain child of Joseph Vogel, who said that when COVID-19 hit, he and others in his network just wanted to find a way to help.
Vogel said the team knew they would have to get creative if they wanted to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the community. “None of us are doctors, none of us are first responders,” he said of himself and the team of friends and volunteers working with him on the project, “so we’re not going to be directly saving lives. But we can help impact the education of the children of essential workers and other impacted families.”
Learn it Together is primarily looking to serve low-income communities, single parent households, families where parents are front-line workers —whether doctors, nurses or in grocery stores —and those who might have trouble engaging fully in online learning, Vogel said. But, he added, nobody will be turned away.
The program first launched in spring, offering their first tutoring session April 13. Over the following four weeks, the team of about 30 tutors conducted more than fifty sessions in subjects from grade 2 math to grade 10 calculus. “That showed that the demand was not just theoretical,” said Vogel, “but that it was real around the community —and we could do something about it.”
For the new academic year, Learn it Together has expanded to include more tutors and to offer than 20 subjects, including geometry, chemistry and biology but also statistics physics, US Government, and languages such as Spanish, French and American Sign Language. Later in the fall, the team hopes to expand to offer extra-curricular activities such as book club, yoga and roundtable discussions with political figures.
‘This is How We Can Help’
Vogel acknowledges that the team doesn’t have a background in education or pedagogy. Rather, they are drawing on their personal experiences, since, he said, they are all “still young enough to remember what it was like to be students.”
Like Vogel, who is currently in graduate school, coordinators and tutors are upperclassmen or recent graduates from a range of competitive universities —including Brown, Harvard, George Washington and Northwestern University— who live in the DMV area and around the country, and have also found early success in professional industries such as consulting, politics, business —and on Broadway.
Sasha Bartol is a New York City-based musical theatre composer, music director, orchestrator and copyist who said she is excited to adapt her skills to help build Learn it Together. Another team member, Matt Litman, is currently a senior at Brown University studying English who spent the summer reporting for The Ellsworth American.
“We’re not tutoring experts, but we’ve taken the classes, have the skillset, and do our best to set students up for success,” Vogel said. “We all want to serve our communities in this unique time of crisis: this is how we think we can.”
Addressing Challenges of Language, Culture
Vogel himself came from an immigrant household, and he said that one of the reasons he is passionate about this because he has been thinking about families who are dealing with online learning during a pandemic on top of the challenges of language and culture.
His parents immigrated from Uruguay, and while they had post-secondary degrees, Vogel said that the challenges of language and culture can make it nearly impossible for parents to support their children in education. “When you’re learning in an entirely new language, and having to adapt to new cultures of learning —for example, the culture around SAT prep and homework is fairly different here [compared to] any other country.”
Learn it Together offers targeted support to non-English-speaking parents. The website can be translated to Spanish in one click, and tutors fluent in Spanish can tutor in a second language, communicate with parents who are not comfortable in English, or help students (and tutors) with sessions in other subjects.
Tutoring Sessions, Info Sessions
To participate, interested parents or students sign up for a 30-minute session online, selecting available times from the calendar. After the first session is booked, the Learn it Together team sends a Zoom link for the online session, as well as a form asking for basic information about the student’s needs —the area they want to focus on, what they are learning overall, or what assignments look like.
“Tutors will spend time before the session doing research to gain insight on what the student needs support on,” said Vogel, “and they’ll have some context from which to work with the student.”
The Learn it Together fall calendar is just starting to fill up now, and fall sessions can be booked beginning Sept. 14. There are no limits on the number of sessions per student, Vogel said, so long as students are productive. As well as new students, Learn it Together is looking for volunteer tutors in multiple subjects.