While Harvard students across the globe attend online lectures and turn in virtual assignments, many K-12 students in low-income areas are home with few educational resources and no access to remote learning.
To combat this problem, a team of Harvard and MIT undergraduates has launched “CovEd,” an online platform to pair volunteer tutors with grade school students that need educational support and mentorship during the coronavirus crisis.
Evelyn Wong ’21, the project’s founder, said that she started the group in late March when she heard about school shutdowns in her district and wanted to help low-income students with food or housing insecurities.
“Students who have financial means to get tutoring can just pay for a tutor,” Wong said. “But if your school is shut down, if you want college prep help or SAT prep help or academic support, you can’t do that.”
Inspired by initiatives created by students at the College to match people looking for housing with potential hosts, Wong created a Google Form to match students who could use help in school with student volunteers who have time to tutor them.
Interest grew quickly, and roughly 300 people signed up as mentors in less than a day, according to Wong. She soon formed a management team of students from Harvard and MIT to organize logistics and scale the project into a more formal organization.
The biggest logistical task early on in the project was forming mentor-mentee pairings. Students who sign up for the platform fill out a detailed form that includes the subjects they need help with, their tentative career aspirations, and any special needs or disabilities. Volunteer mentors fill out a similar form.
Students on the CovEd team spend hours manually making pairings while trying to match timezones and mutual interests. Once pairings are made, it is up to the mentor and the mentee to coordinate their meetings.
The team does not run background checks on mentors due to the volume of mentors who signed up. To ward off potential risks to student safety, they require that a third party, ideally the child’s parent or guardian, be present at every tutoring session.
Currently the platform has accumulated over 1550 volunteer tutors from 60 educational institutions across the country, with over 900 students signed up to receive tutoring. More than 700 of these students have been paired with mentors.
The CovEd team itself now spans hundreds of people, including a whole outreach team dedicated to spreading the project’s message.
“In areas like my hometown in North Carolina, school shutdowns have become a month-long break for students where there is no formal teaching going on,” Anne J. Lheem ’21, who co-heads the outreach team, said. “We felt like it was really important to make sure we were reaching out to those communities.”
CovEd rarely deals with money since tutors volunteer and services are provided for free. Wong said the organization has no plans to incorporate in the future. The team even turned down an offer of seed funding from an entrepreneur.
“You can’t pay someone to be willing to check in on a student periodically and even after the tutoring platform is over,” Wong said. “Part of asking for voluntary mentors is that we know if a mentor is asking to volunteer, then they want to. It’s not because they have a financial incentive.”