UC Berkeley alumni, students offer free online tutoring service for low-income communities

Photo of a laptop displaying virtual learning sites including Zoom and bCourses.
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Nonprofit organization Pandemic Professors seeks to help low-income communities during the pandemic by offering free tutoring services to students.

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Pandemic Professors, a nonprofit organization that provides free online tutoring for K-12 students in low-income communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, is continuing to grow its services — especially as schools look toward virtual education in the fall.

UC Berkeley alum Harley Simpson founded Pandemic Professors in hopes of addressing the education gap impacting economically disadvantaged students — an issue that the pandemic has only exacerbated. Most of Pandemic Professors’ services are offered through partnerships with local schools, according to Simpson.

“The amount of people who’ve been willing to help has just been insane,” Simpson said. “I didn’t think, when we first started, that there’d be people that willing.”

Because of language barriers, parents may have difficulties helping children learn at home when teaching materials are in English, Simpson said. In response, Pandemic Professors has been hiring qualified tutors to teach a wide array of subjects, from English and math to coding and cryptography.

To ensure the quality of its services, the organization requires tutors to go through an application process and a training program. This allows each tutor to be able to support their students not only as an instructor, but also as a “buddy,” according to Pandemic Professors program coordinator Sara Ellis.

“We really want to emphasize quality,” Ellis said. “In these trainings, we really emphasize empathy and active listening because children are going through such a hard time right now.”

According to Simpson, Pandemic Professors has currently paired 60 students with tutors and aims to cumulatively provide 1,000 hours of tutoring a week. Some of the challenges that remain for the company include acquiring funding and improving the pairing process.

According to team members, the organization is not only a tutoring program, but also a community for college students and recent graduates who share a passion for educating.

“I really felt like during the pandemic that I wanted to do something, and it seemed like a really good opportunity to really make a difference in an area that I care about,” said Alissa Stover, service design research coordinator for Pandemic Professors.

Staff member and UC Berkeley student Ellen Kwok echoed Stover’s sentiment, stating that she wanted to continue pursuing her passion for volunteering with low-income populations.

For others on the team, the most rewarding experiences are related to the relationships they have formed with students. English and math tutor and campus student Ana Rivelli said one of the moments that stood out to her the most was when she asked a student about her writing difficulties.

“She said that she tended to overthink a lot which words to use, which made her get stuck,” Rivelli said in an email. “When I heard that I smiled because I usually go through the same thing.”

The organization, which continues to see a need for its services, is currently seeking to expand its internship and volunteering opportunities.

Contact Zoe Chen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zoe_chen820.